How to Break the Creative Wall

Even when my creative mojo is down, it’s never out. These are some ways to get it back.

A. S. Deller
Nov 17 · 4 min read

I’ve been a creator all my life, from the first mini comics I drew full of stick figures on bits of scrap paper from my grandparents’ attic, to the scripts, art and animation I’ve made for video games. One thing is certain when it comes to a creative life: There will be times when it’s just harder to make the thing you want than others.

Here are some of the tools I use to get myself back on track:

The Sight.

I open up some photo albums, either the real ones actually made of paper and plastic, or the ones on your various devices, and relive some moments from my past. Or maybe I’m in the mood for a favorite movie? Or perhaps a psychedelic experimental film like Koyaanisqatsi? (or maybe they’re one and the same). I sit back, relax, and bask in visual memories, and something will happen. Images will act as catalysts and I soon find my own ideas coursing like waterfalls.

The Dance.

Quickly stand up and start moving. Move how I feel right then and there. If anyone can see me, that’s even better. Maybe their reactions can be even more inspiration. The Robot? The Macarena? Hand Jive? Memphis Jookin’? Maybe I’ll try to pop & lock, break, or tap (even though I’m not very good). Yes please. Movement works to grease the brain with endorphins and memories.

The Feast.

It could be that my creativity is wanting because my body is wanting. I need nourishment of the physical kind. I enjoy cooking, so I take 30 minutes and whip up something I love, healthy and satisfying. Or grab my nearest friend and head over to a favorite hangout that has great food on offer. Spicy stuff can get my thoughts moving fast, and also food that reminds me of past times. Whatever I do, I don’t drink too much… since I don’t want to fall asleep before I can realize my next great creative idea.

The Soliloquy.

Sitting where I am, I start speaking. About anything, whatever comes to mind first. It may be nonsense or gibberish, or it could be Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be…” or one of comedian Patton Oswalt’s funniest bits. The act of speaking and hearing words could start a snowball effect.

The Outline.

I might already have a kernel of and idea for what I want to write, or maybe I have a writing prompt to go off of. If I have a starting point, I can then begin plotting out a course, or various possible courses, for where to take it. Think of this as brainstorming, where I don’t judge my ideas. Just jot down steps that I could take. I might build a branching outline, like a “choose your own adventure”, and see how far I can take it.

The Dial-a-Friend.

Do I have a muse? Or just a buddy who likes to talk a lot? Someone I regularly bounce ideas off of, or just like to listen talk about the general wackiness of their daily antics? I call them up. No, I don’t text them. This is an emoji-free zone. The entire point here is for me to get some fresh input and perspective. This is what I think of as the “cliff machine” effect. Do you know those ridiculous yet tempting arcade machines where piles of tokens, gift cards, dollar bills or whatever are sitting on a little shelf with little pusher arms constantly threatening to dump them over the ledge and (hopefully) out into your waiting, greedy hands? My muse is those pusher arms.

The Breakaway.

If none of the above seems to do the trick, I might just need to leave. Literally, get up, leave my house, apartment, office, basement dungeon, go outside and do something else. It may be that I just need the stimulation, or perhaps some inspiration. I should probably have called this section “Shuns”, because perspiration is another thing that could help. I do something active. Get on with my day or make a new one. When I return to my blank page, I may just be able to fill it.

The Spine Cracker.

Now these suggestions are just starting to sound like wrestling finishing moves, aren’t they? What I mean by “spine cracker” is that luscious sound some new books make when you open them up and the glue breaks just so. I don’t need to read an actual, real book for this to work — I can open my Kindle app instead — but holding a few ounces to a couple pounds of pressed wood pulp in my hands may be better for my memory than poring over pixels. It’s a generally accepted rule of thumb that to get better at writing you should get better at reading, so following this tip might just inspire me and get me in the mood to do some creating,

The Sound.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen

I crank up some of my favorite tunes, whether they be from Baez, Bono, or Bach. Sounds generate emotion, and emotion generates comprehension. I let the music speak through me by unlocking doors in my memory that I might not have considered opening for days, months or years.

These may work for you. If they do, let me know! And if you have others, please let us know in the comments.

Thank you for reading and sharing!

The Ascent

A. S. Deller

Written by

Startup product manager. Sci fi, Fantasy and Science writer.

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