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EPISODE 70: How to Get Out of Creative Block

by Jan 25, 2022Brand Your Voice, Podcast

Learn how to get out of creative block. In this episode we will cover:

  • Acknowledging when you need a break 
  • Creating your own writing retreat {no travel required}
  • Reconnecting to your writing “why”
  • Discovering the power of community

Finding the time, energy, and inspiration to write creatively can be tough. Life inevitably throws various stressors in your path—client changes, unexpected travel, illness, family responsibilities, etc. 

Sometimes, the answer is to push through and put words on the page. But commonly, that can lead to burnout {we do a dive deep into burnout in Episode 67: SOS – An Honest Conversation About Creative Burnout}. Ultimately, we are not creativity robots. It’s unfair to ask ourselves to generate content 24/7.

It’s important to ask yourself: when was the last time you stepped away from your regular writing routine? If it feels long overdue, it might be an opportune time to reset and rejuvenate. In this week’s episode, Jessi and Marie came together {in the same room, in real life!} for a writing retreat, and shared some of the lessons they learned during the experience about how to get out of creative block. 

We acknowledge that physically traveling to a retreat is a privilege, and isn’t always safe or financially feasible {especially during these times.} In those cases, there are still ways you can find little refuges within your own life—you can do this alone, or invite other writers to join you.

Whether it’s getting lost in a good book, sitting on your porch, looking out a window, hanging out with a great friend, or just changing scenery {at a coffee shop, in the library, etc.} allowing space for new experiences beyond the keyboard helps you get out of your creative block and create better words on the page.

 

Here are a few of the lessons Jessi + Marie gained during their writing retreat about how to get out of creative block:

  • Writing together is powerful. Finding a community of writers who understand your challenges, commiserate with you during your lows, and celebrate your wins {however big or small} helps you rediscover your passion and creativity for the craft.
  • Taking space from your routine helps you reconnect to your ‘why’. What brought you to writing in the first place? For many of us it was automatic or intuitive, but for others it might be a relatively new practice. Have the reasons you write shifted {especially as the world around us has shifted?} Are you trying to fit an old process {for example, 9-5 corporate culture} on top of a new you? Taking a break from your current writing routine can release the pressure around productivity, and help you rediscover why you started writing in the first place—probably because you love it and hey, it’s actually pretty damn fun.
  • Setting boundaries matters. Writing won’t always flow, so you need to find a way to make writing work with your life and schedule no matter when creativity strikes. This could be something as simple as getting a bluetooth keyboard so you can turn those doctor office waiting room moments into an opportunity to put some words on the page. The time will fly and you’ll feel productive! On the flip side, give yourself permission to set boundaries around your writing, so you aren’t working all the time.
  • Evolving your writing routine is essential. It’s important to keep tabs on where you are mentally, physically, and emotionally, so you can readjust as needed. For example, if your schedule doesn’t require traditional 9-5 hours, add some flexibility to your life and write during the times you’re most likely to be productive. Things change, so set aside time on a regular basis {for example, quarterly} to reassess your writing process, so that it continues to support you both personally and professionally.

 

Homework: 

Ask yourself: when was the last time you stepped away from your regular routine of writing? If it’s time for a retreat, create one—however works best for you.

Looking for a virtual space where you can talk about these exact types of things and connect with other writers? Join the Polaris Writer Lounge to meet your people and have some fun!

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Marie:
Hi there. This is Marie and Jessi, and guess what?

Jessi:
We're together.

Marie:
We're in one place. Yeah, we're really excited to hang out with you all today because we are recording this from a writing retreat that we are both attending and it's special for us because obviously it's living in different places and with the world, the way that it is, it's very rare for us to be able to see each other in person. But we wanna talk about all the things that we've learned and things that have been really powerful for us during this retreat, during today's episode and pass them along to you. But also just a quick word that you may hear some background noise and some other voices because we are not alone in this space.

Jessi:
Yeah. We're not in our normal recording studio areas. So, we're just gonna dive in and talk about why being around these people that you may hear in the background and taking the time out of our schedules to do a writing retreat has been helpful for us in our writing, both our personal writing and our professional writing. And why taking that time and setting it aside can be helpful to you. And before we do, though, I wanna pose the question to you as you're listening, when was the last time that you stepped away from your regular routine of writing? When was the last time that you created, if not a writing retreat environment, it doesn't have to be with other people, it doesn't have to be in a fan location, just a little bit of space in your life to step back from whatever your responsibilities are and think through some of the things that we're gonna talk about today.

Marie:
And the answer may be something like, oh, the holidays. And that's great. And I know that me during the holidays, it is different, you know, I'm not working as much as I typically am, but I'm also not really thinking about my work. So I think what's helpful for me in this space has been, yes, I've stepped away from my routine, but I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about my career and I'm thinking about my writing process and all of that. So that may be a distinction to consider, as you were considering the last time you stepped away from your routine. But for both of us, it's been a little bit tough lately to write and to feel really creative, you know. Life stuff, travel, family, changes in the business, changes in who our clients are, just stressors that come and go in life. It seemed like a lot of them came all at once lately. And so, we knew that if we just kept pushing, cuz a lot of times the answer you just have to push through, but sometimes if you keep pushing, there comes a point at which that can lead to burnout. We do actually have an episode on creative burnout. So if you want to dive into that, I definitely recommend you check it out in our podcast listing.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think the other reason we wanted to talk about this is because that idea of the creative burnout has come up a lot, not just with myself and Marie, but it's also come up multiple times within the Polaris lounge, which is our writer community where people are talking about how things have shifted for them. Especially in the last few years since the pandemic began, life has changed significant for people, processes have changed for people. And I think often what ends up happening is we get very stuck on the things that used to work and we get very stuck in what is safe and comfortable for us. So for me, for example, something that is safe and comfortable for me is to sit down at a certain time every day, work on my client, work on my creative projects on a very set schedule. Unfortunately, that set schedule in the last year or so has actually been detrimental to my productivity. And I've had to learn to be a little bit more flexible.
What I've learned and what has been sort of reinforced at this particular retreat is that, and regardless of how excited we are about the writing we wanna do or how burnt out we are, we're not idea and creativity robots, we cannot just produce endlessly. And it's unfair to ask ourselves to generate endlessly. Even if you are one of those people who tends to be very prolific, it's worth taking the time to reset a little bit.

Marie:
Absolutely. So, we do wanna share things that we've learned, things that have been helpful about this experience this past week for us, but we also want to acknowledge before we dive into that, that the experience we've just had this past week is not always accessible to everybody. I mean, literally this was kind of just a group of friends. So this particular retreat was not really open invitation to a whole lot of people. But speaking more broadly, it's something where being able to step away from your home, your family, children, pets, and your clients for X number of days. We acknowledge that there's privilege in that. And that's not always possible or financially feasible or safe or whatever. But we do encourage you to see what little refuges you can find within your own life.
Sometimes it's just allowing yourself to get lost in a good book, or sitting on your porch, checking out your garden or looking out the window by your desk and just daydreaming a bit, or hanging out with a great friend or just having a new change of scenery, like being in a coffee shop or in a library, things like that. So we just wanted to acknowledge that you don't have to get on a plane or get into your car or leave your home to have a bit of a reset. Sometimes it's just giving yourself a CEO day, even if you do not, you're like, Hey, I'm just a freelancer. I don't think to myself as a CEO, like what could happen if you carved out one day, a quarter or even every six months to just do some reflection. You don't have to leave your desk, you don't have to leave your home. So these are things you can work through in any environment.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think it's important to acknowledge too why these resets are important beyond creative burnout, the potential for creative burnout, cuz not everyone experiences that. Some people may be like, Nah, I've never, I don't get burnt out from writing like that. That is actually a source of energy for me. But I still think having those resets are important because when you take those steps away, it allows you to evaluate things like your processes. It allows you to experience new things. Even if it's just a new cup of coffee at the coffee shop and it allows you to ultimately create better work, create better, either personal fiction, potentially better client work and client projects. It allows you to think about your business in a more holistic way.
One thing that we've found is that when we are so wrapped up in writing client work, that we cannot focus on the larger picture of the business, the business itself suffers. And so taking those resets to also allow yourself to look at the big picture, creates an environment for you to not just be a better writer, but also be a better business owner. And on the writing side, because writing is an experiential process. So much of what we write comes from our experiences. Even if you're writing for a client who's in a completely different industry than you taking the space to have of experiences allows you to create better words on the page.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So, things that we have found useful in this experience for us, speaking of experiences, a lot of it for us in this particular incidents has been the community, has been the comradery. We, like I said, it's been a group of friends and so it's really lovely to be able to come together with other people who do what you do, understand the challenges, understand what you're talking about when you are trying to troubleshoot something, who can really listen and really offer support or confirmation or whatever it is. And also I personally find that I get more, I'm more productive in writing when I'm sitting with a group of other people who are also writing, cuz I'm like, ah, yes, I'm not the only one doing this right now, you know. There's this sense of comradery within it. So on those two levels, being around sort of my people has been very fulfilling for me. And I think probably leads to some of the next things we're gonna talk about.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I don't know if you can hear some of the laughter in the background but I think some of it, that inherent fun of having a community of people who understand and having a community who you can both commiserate with and laugh with gives you the space to do a lot of things. One of which is celebrating your wins, for example. I think we've all had those wins that you get to the end of a big project, you finish some client project that has been looming over your head or you finally write your novel or whatever it may be having people to celebrate with is huge. And again, it doesn't have to be a bunch of people in a physical space. It can be in a virtual space too. And there's something really valuable in that in having people who understand what goes into it and then can celebrate the success of it.

Marie:
Right. Absolutely. And I think it really allows us to think about why we started writing in the first place. I think for a lot of us, it just felt inevitable, right? Like of course I'm a writer, of course I'm gonna be a writer. For some people, they just stumbled into it. But just thinking back to what brought you back to writing in the first place and assessing whether those reasons have shifted at all, especially because the world has changed so much. So when you're with your people, not only are you celebrating and you're having fun together, but you start having conversations about craft and conversations about just sort of the meta stuff around writing. And so these conversations around why come up. You don't have to do that in a group. You can certain hang out with your own journal and just think about that, or allow yourself to ponder that question as you drive to the grocery store next time, but reconnecting to the why of your writing, or what makes writing fun for you is really important.
We had a conversation with another one of our fellow writers here about this last night and he was talking about how he'd been through sort of a dry spell of writing, but been productive on this trip. And part of it was because he was able to gamify the pieces of writing he was working on and made it fun. And he was able to have a success there which felt good for him. Yeah.

Jessi:
Yeah, which leads to the next question I have for those of you listening, which is, are you trying to fit an old process on top of a new you? I think there are instances where we get so comfortable with the way that we have always done things and we may need to change, like gamification for example. And sometimes it's hard to see that if you don't step away. At least for me personally, I get very set in doing things one way that it takes an, often physical, reset of stepping back from my projects and looking at them to say, oh, this thing that worked for me two years ago is not working anymore. And I think that this is probably true for a lot of people because the last few years have been difficult and have changed a lot of people. And the way that we interact with everything from society to our work has changed. But often our processes haven't necessarily caught up with those interpersonal changes. And so it's worth taking a moment to see, okay, am I still using the same process I used two, three years ago? And does that process still make sense? And the stepping back can really help you take a look at that in a really, I think, cohesive sort of way, and to try new things and just experiment and play a little bit, going back to the fun thing.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of those things about process is, I was having a conversation with another one of the writers here and it's like, even when it feels like a piece is just, it exists, it's just in your head and you just need to get it onto the page and it's really flowing, that point A to point B cannot happen without you being present. Right. And so maybe your process was previously, Hey, I'm gonna sit down at my desk from 8:00 AM to noon, cause I'm a morning person. But something's changed and your schedule and you know, now maybe you have a school-age child now. And so you're unable to get to your desk as quickly as you were before and it's making it feel like it's suffering, right. That's one of those instances where you may have something in your process that needs to change and something as simple as like we've been geeking out over these Bluetooth keyboards that some people have brought that are like, I don't know what is that half a centimeter thick or so, I mean, they're very small, fit in your purse or they fit just next to your phone in your pocket. And that way, maybe as you're sitting there in the, I don't know, in the car, obviously with the gear in park or whatever, you could take those 30 minutes of whatever you're doing, sitting in the doctor's office or whatever it is and use that if it feels fun and good to you to turn that engine opportunity, to get some words on the page, because the time will a fly, you'll be productive. You may be able to stop your work day early and go do something fun. So, is there like an item that would just help you with that process? Just taking the time to reflect and say like if I had this one thing or if I could to get my partner to do this instead of me doing it or whatever it is, you know, reflect on, is there something that would make writing and your life and your work easier for you?

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think one of those things that is not a physical product that might make your life easier, but it's something we've talked about extensively on this podcast is boundaries. Yes, it can be really helpful to be able to whip out your Bluetooth keyboard and write anywhere, and then evaluating is that a helpful practice? I think one of the things that can happen sometimes, especially during times of difficulty for some people, speaking from my own personal experience, is using projects as a way to avoid other things.

Marie:
I'm feeling called out.

Jessi:
And I'm thinking of this specifically in terms of people who have multiple types of writing projects, but it could be types of any projects, anything that you wanna do. So I'm gonna use different types of writing projects. This is an example here where let's say that you have a lot of client work that falls into kind of different categories, some of which maybe you're more excited about than others. And you also have your own personal project. Maybe you're writing a novel or something, taking a step back and resetting is a good opportunity to evaluate whether you have the boundaries in place to allow you to do all of those things. Because even though they all fall under this big umbrella of writing, they require different thought processes, different file cabinets of knowledge and different types of energy. And so if you spend most of your time working on the one client that requires the most energy of you, and you're doing that with that big burst of energy that you get, if in the beginning of the day, if you're a morning person, you don't necessarily have anything left over for your personal projects or for your other client projects. And so something's always gonna get shoved to the back burner. So this is an opportunity for you to look at where your boundaries are so that you can prioritize appropriately, which isn't saying that you take the client and you shove them to the back burner. It's just saying, are they always taking priority over everything else and making sure that you have that balance in place?

Marie:
Yeah. I mean, I think this is exactly what leads to feast and famine cycles, right? Because you get a bunch of client work and then you're using all your energy to deliver for those clients, which means you don't have any energy left over to do sales, which means as soon as you finish those client projects, you're like, oh no, I have no clients. And so then you throw all your energy into sales and you just go on this rollercoaster up and down and up and down and up and down forever. So is there a way to balance things more so that you can have the energy for both the sales size of things or networking or whatever it is and the actual delivery? So it can be within your own business to you where this happens, setting boundaries is key, and it's about setting boundaries with yourself. And when you do that and you honor them, you build trust in yourself.
So I think along that note, I think something like a writing retreat or a CEO day is an opportunity for you. It's a container for you to keep tabs on and really assess where you are in all the ways sort of mentally, physically, emotionally energy level wise, so that you can then readjust as needed, add some flexibility to your life, take care of yourself.
If your schedule is not requiring you to sit down at a desk from nine to five every day, which is one of the really attractive things about going out on your own as a writer, then you can have a lot of flexibility in how you get your work done, when you get your work done, where you get your work done, and how you do it in a way that feels good for you and actually gives you some a sense of wellbeing. Just remember, all those habits you may have learned in corporate or as a teacher or as a parent or in college or wherever you've been sort of told this is how it should be, or this is the way it's always been. All of that can be questioned. It's up to you and that's one of the really exciting things about our line of work.

Jessi:
Yeah. I think we've also been talking about a reset in sort of two categories. We've been talking about it in terms of a very, almost solo reset of just taking some time for you out on your porch, getting some coffee, doing your own thing, looking at your boundaries, things like that. And also in the sort of group setting that Marie and I are are in currently, I would wanna call out the value of having some sort of community to process with, to talk with, to celebrate with, even if you're also finding those solo moments, even if you're a super introvert, even if you're someone who has a schedule where it's difficult for you to find time with community. And I say this as a super introvert myself, that it is incredibly valuable to have a group of peers who understand the challenges of your craft and can ask you questions that you wouldn't think of yourself. Can help you think about the things that you, for example, you may know you feel a certain way about your writing, but you don't know why, or you may feel a certain way about your process, but you don't know how to fix it. And having that objective outside perspective is so incredibly helpful to allow you to truly evaluate. And just like anything else, you may agree or disagree with them. You can take and leave what works and what doesn't, but it's really hard to always rely on your own internal dialogue or monologue to solve everything. And so even if you can't find a physical community to be around, which is very difficult right now, finding a virtual space where you can chat about these things, where you can say, Hey, I'm having an off day or an off week or an off month and I wanna talk through maybe why that's happening or on the flip side, I'm rocking it right now. I'm doing awesome. And I really need to celebrate, because this was a lot of friggin work and you all know how much work goes into this, so that everyone can celebrate that success.

Marie:
Absolutely. So if you're looking for a community like that, we would love to invite you to hang out with us and a group of other writers in the Polaris writer lounge. This is a community for writers by writers, and we dig into weekly topics and have lots of photos of dogs and cats. And we'd love to have you join us. You can check the show notes for the link and my voice is going weird right now, so I'm gonna stop talking, I have to clear my throat.

Jessi:
Yeah, we would love to have you in the Polaris lounge. We'd love for you to share with us when you join some of your recent celebrations and also anything you might be working through right now. And it would really be an honor for us, for you to allow us to create that container for you to be able to reset and recharge a little bit in your own writing.

Marie:
Absolutely. So we look forward to meeting you inside.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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