When You Just Can’t Create Any More

  • April 7, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 67 Comments

We’ve all had those days. Sometimes you just feel like you have nothing more to give. Your ideas are all used up. You couldn’t produce a good blog post or piece of content for your website to save your life.

Consistently publishing quality content on the web is a huge challenge (and consistently creating epic content is a whole other story).

If you create content for the web for any length of time, you’ll have days where you feel like you just can’t create any more. Maybe you’ll have those days every month or every week.

And I want you to know this: you are not alone.

I have those days too. This has been one of those weeks. It’s been a struggle just to tweet anything interesting, forget about blogging or shooting a video or doing a webinar.

Sometimes I wonder how I haven’t burned out completely over the past two years. After churning out almost 300 blog posts, 2 long ebooks, 2 full online courses and god knows how many interviews, status updates, videos, photographs and everything else sometimes I’m surprised I have anything left to say at all.

Sound familiar?

Most bloggers I know feel burned out from time to time. Some really great bloggers completely burn out and stop creating content altogether. I’ve talked more than one blogging friend off the ledge in the past year.

I’m always sad to see the good ones disappear, but I’ve seen it happen enough that I know more will disappear in the coming months and years too.

This week started a little slow for me. I knew by Sunday night that I wasn’t on my A-game. For me, the most creative and productive weeks start with flashes of new ideas towards the end of the weekend. Sometimes I start writing new posts on Sunday because I’m just feeling the need to write, right then.

I haven’t felt much creative energy this week, and now I find myself at a coffee shop, three days later (it’s Wednesday afternoon) and I’m finally sitting down to write. The synapses weren’t firing at my home office so I took my show on the road for a change of scenery. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Thankfully the change is helping me today.

Luckily, I already had a post “in the can” that I was able to run on Tuesday. I wish I had more content sitting in some sacred locker of ready-to-use articles and videos, but I tend to shoot from the hip, creating just a day or three before hitting “publish.” Maybe you’re better at producing “just in case” content. If so, I’m a little jealous.

Most of us have to slog through the slump or wait it out.

I don’t have some profound strategy for overcoming burnout or temporary bouts of apathy. I’m not going to share a convenient list of 10 Things You Can Do to Get Your Creative Mojo Back.

I just want you to know that you’re not alone. It happens to everybody. Sometimes you just have to let it pass.

If you can’t afford to wait it out, you might be able to create your way out of the creative funk, like I’m doing here. Instead of resisting the slump, run with it, explore it’s deepest reaches, see where it takes you. What are you resisting exactly? Are you afraid of something? Are you bored by what you think you should be writing about?

For me, the end to this particular dip started last night, when I saw Gary Vaynerchuck at his book signing here in San Francisco. Sometimes a conversation with someone smart or listening to a talk can get you back on track. I wonder if Gary V. ever has creative slumps?

I imagine he does, because like I said, everyone feels like they can’t create any more once in a while. At least everyone I’ve met.

So if you’re having one of those days, or one of those weeks, just know that it’s totally normal. I feel your pain.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


Think Traffic is now The Sparkline. Click here to check it out.

Or View The Archives

Nate April 7, 2011 at 6:44 am

Yup, this is totally normal and to be expected. It’s completely natural for our bodies to go through cycles and I think a good strategy is to be better about listening to what our bodies are saying instead of forcing through it. If we’re feeling run down or having real, physical symptoms of burnout then that’s our body’s way of saying ‘hey dude, chill out!! take a rest for a little bit.’ I don’t know, maybe there’s some misconception that we need to be producing all the time or if we take a day off (or a week for that matter) to completely disconnect and recharge, we’re being lazy or not productive. I think it’s a societal thing in America where we’re constantly ‘go, go, go’ and success is equated with doing.

I like the questions you propose above. That’s an excellent strategy. Really start to connect with the physical symptoms and question where the feelings are coming from. Maybe it’s ‘oh, shit, I’ve only been sleeping 5 hours a night on average for the past few weeks…maybe I need to relax here for a bit.’ Either way, some good introspection is absolutely a good tool to use.

Glad to hear you’re out of your funk! :)

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

It’s true, Nate, I think we’re all a little too “in our heads” these days and it’s easy to ignore what our bodies are telling us. Thanks for the perspective, obviously you’ve thought about this a lot.

Matthew Hooper April 7, 2011 at 6:44 am

I get into slumps when I get too many ideas and lose focus. Sometimes it’s hard to push off the new ideas in order to focus on the projects that are currently in play. Then again, sometimes you just need a break.

– Matt

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:38 am

Now that you mention it Matt, I think that’s sometimes how a slump starts for me. I start to wonder if I’m working on the “right” things and start imagining all the other possibilities. The weight of all the options is enough to derail anyone for a while.

Dave Doolin April 7, 2011 at 7:07 am

Having a backlog really helps. I’ve got dozens in draft on my main site, and more dozens scattered across Disqus, Posterous, etc. However, even those these are close to finished, they do need that creative twist, which is the harder part. But they give me a big head start.

I made a habit early on of writing technically interesting articles which bring me business months (or more than a year) after publication, so it’s not necessary for me to write all the time.

Since I also cultivated guest post authors, they have helped keep content fresh as well.

As I write this, it’s occurred to me that I have separated the function of the website from my creative cycle. When I’m not feeling overly creative, business marches on.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:39 am

That’s awesome Dave, congrats for getting to that level of maturity. I think separating the site’s function from my creative cycle should be my next step. I wonder how many of the more popular sites out there have achieved that?

Wayne John @ Southern California Web Development April 7, 2011 at 7:08 am

It wasn’t until I started blogging that I understood what writers block really was, or felt exactly how important it is for writers to get out of it when they experience it. I don’t like the feeling personally, and I don’t have any secret method to break the cycle either.

But, what I do do is leave everything and just switch things up. Instead of trying to force it out of me, I take a little trip to the mall, watch a movie or two, practice bass guitar, or just out partying with friends at the clubs and honky tonks.

Yeah, that’s right, honky tonks. :)

I find that refreshes me and I’m able to get some idea juices flowing again.

If there is anything that binds bloggers together, it’s this.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:54 am

Damn, the old “honky tonk” approach, I forgot about that. Thanks for the reminder ;)

Onibalusi Bamidele April 7, 2011 at 7:10 am

This is awesome and reassuring Corbett,

Awesome in the sense that even though you said you find it difficult to write you still wrote something epic and reassuring the sense that we, your readers know clearly that we’re not alone and that this happens to everyone.

I write a lot everyday and I’ve had my own share of this, but one tip I have for everybody is to take some rest. We sometimes spend a lot of time in front of our computer that we lose track, taking some rest might make a whole lot of difference. Any single time I find it difficult to write I always trace it back to stress and lack of rest and once that one has been checked I’ll be back online, fully.

Thanks so much for the awesome post and have a great day,
-Onibalusi

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:56 am

People spend incredible amounts of time in front of the screen these days. Really, it’s amazing we have any creative abilities without much real world interaction.

David William April 7, 2011 at 7:10 am

Amazing timing. I just wrote a post last night called “Your Problem is That You’re Just Not Curious Anymore”.

http://almostbohemian.com/curiosity/

I believe the best strategy to combating the creative blues is to re-ignite that passion for curiosity. I’m not sure there is a more simple and clear answer than that.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 9:58 am

Interesting idea, David. You’re absolutely right, curiosity is a powerful driver. If you aren’t feeling particularly creative though, can you really ignite curiosity separately?

Joe Barlow April 7, 2011 at 7:14 am

Your post resonates with the power of truth. Writer’s block, or burn-out, or whatever you’d like to call it, is crippling and demoralizing at the time; thankfully, it’s also temporary. Quality content is worth waiting for, although I congratulate you on taking steps to shake loose your creativity (moving to a coffee house for a change of scenery), rather than continuing to accept defeat within your comfort zone. I’m a HUGE proponent of coffee house writing (It’s the name of my blog, for heaven’s sake!) for exactly this reason. On behalf of all of us, thanks for all you do, and we look forward to the return of your creative mojo.

-j.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:05 am

I love your blog’s name, nice work! And yeah, I always seem to get more done at coffee shops than in my normal office environment. I like to reserve the coffee shop for especially needy times though because I don’t want to erode its power.

Philipp Knoll April 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

Thinking about it there are two things that tend to help me out on a regular basis:

I take a break and live the lifestyle I wanted to enjoy all the time – the lifestyle that probably made you blog in the first place. This brings back energy and ideas come crashing in. I felt the need for a day like that yesterday. Together with two of my sons (3 and 5 years old) we took their bikes and I grabbed my longboard and we had an awesome time outdoors.

The other thing I do is I go through my list of bookmarks. I have a lot of great blog listed on there on all kinds of topics. Some of those blogs are enough inspiration by themselves. What always generates ideas for posts is engaging in the discussions. I read others commenters feedback or even their questions. If there is anything I can add to it I leave my comments as well. But there are always comments and questions by others to which I have a good answer or, even better, a completely contrary opinion. Then I certainly know what to write about.

That how I deal with it.
- Philipp

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

I like the surfing part of that equation, Philipp ;)

Free Landing Pages April 7, 2011 at 7:33 am

Glad to know I’m not alone in this. It’s true that we all burned out time to time, i like to read a book or watch a bit of tv before returning to my desk and start writing again.

Jia Jun April 7, 2011 at 8:01 am

Sometimes it does happens to me too.
Just take a short rest, look around, read other blog posts, talk with other people, here and there, check out new things, and also check back old draft that yet to finish and publish. It’ll somehow spark the ideas out of what to write next.
Afterall, we keep on push our limit to higher and higher, achieving more in life. :D
Keep it up~ Life goes on~ Haha

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:11 am

Great point, Jia, I do manage to keep some old drafts around of ideas. That can be a big help when you’re stuck.

Kristen Sloan April 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

It’s always refreshing to hear a writer’s block story and be reminded that it happens to everyone. I’ve started paying attention to the times I feel incredibly creative and take more advantage of those times. Therefore, when I hit the wall, I hope to have at least a couple posts on reserve. Also, when I hit the wall, I give myself a break by heading outdoors and being active. Often, I return inspired. Hope you break through soon!

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:15 am

You have to love those hyper-creative times when it feels like lightening is coming from your fingers to the keyboard. I definitely try to take advantage of those times as well, but it doesn’t always produce a big enough surplus.

marianney | A Life Set Free April 7, 2011 at 8:18 am

I always appreciate your honesty and genuineness (is that a word?), Corbett. You are seriously becoming one of my favorite bloggers because of it.

I don’t have a backlog of posts either, but I do keep a note in Evernote where I jot down ideas as they come to me. I can quickly access it from my phone so if I’m out and about and have a thought about something to write about, I put it down right away before I forget it.

Some weeks I just don’t post. I figure why post something bad or not very interesting just to post something? We all follow way too many blogs every day, that not having new posts at a particular blog for a week is actually one less post to read that day ;) That’s why I subscribe to all my favorites, so I don’t forget to come back and check when a new post finally gets published.

Don’t feel you have to post for us every week, Corbett. We all deserve a mental break.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:22 am

Great point, you definitely don’t have to publish every week, unless you’ve made a promise to yourself or your readers that you’re trying to keep.

If I’m feeling particularly uncreative one week, I definitely don’t publish as much as I normally would. Usually this site gets whatever I can muster and some of my other sites go ignored.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:23 am

And thanks for noticing my “genuineness” Marianney ;) If it’s not a word it should be.

Hector Cuevas April 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

Good stuff man. after getting out of hospital last week my mind was’t woking at all – I felt just like this. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Corbett, I’m not sure if you know this, but i published a post about this very topic, and your contribution to the post was liked by many of the commentators.

It.s not easy to keep your creativity juices flowing, and your advice really helped. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with my readers.

Hector

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

Hey Hector, I hope it wasn’t serious !?! Glad you’re out of the hospital.

Sorry, I must have missed the post you’re talking about. Can you share a link?

Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion April 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

What was so refreshing about this Corbett is the fact that many people think A-list bloggers like yourself just have this unlimited tap of ideas they can turn on at any second to start writing. But as you and I both know, that simply ain’t true. Not at all. Even the best struggle. So thanks for keeping it real.

Continued success,

Marcus

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

Hey Marcus, you’re welcome to call me an “a-lister” anytime you like ;) Glad you appreciate the “keepin’ it real.” I think the web needs more honesty and humanness.

Daniel April 7, 2011 at 9:35 am

Yes, as somebody who only relatively recently started my blog, I run into walls all the time. Sometimes it’s for lack of ideas, bit often it’s being overwhelmed by the scope of the ideas and wrestling with how to narrow them down, focus them in to a post that is more than just a stream of conscious rambling. It can easily become paralyzing.

I completely rewrote a recent post at least 6 times because it was all over the place. I never got it to work and it’s one of my crappier posts, but it came to the point I had to break the cycle and move on even if it meant posting something I wasn’t happy with.

I think it’s great that you are “writing your way through” your difficulty this week. It’s a great way strengthen the connection with your readers because we all wholeheartedly relate. Feels like we know you a little better when you let us see that you’re just like us.

Thank you! I’m sure you’ll be back in the game soon!

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

I’ve been there too Daniel, where you’re rewriting over and over and still can’t get a post to work. I’ve abandoned a few that turned out like that. Sometimes a piece just isn’t salvageable.

David William April 7, 2011 at 9:41 am

I keep reading the comments as they come in and it seems like another think that helps is finding that focus.

I wanted to share one of my favorite posts from Derek Sivers:

http://sivers.org/1idea

That makes a huge difference when I struggle to find creativity or focus.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 10:31 am

Awesome advice from Derek, thanks for sharing David!

Faith | Minimalist at Home April 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

Thank you so much for this post, Corbett. I have been in a total non-productive funk the last week and it’s so nice to not feel alone. I haven’t wanted to comment on posts, read much of anything, Tweet, or even think about writing a post.

I felt almost panicky today that I needed to post something just for the sake of posting. But instead, I decided to just wait an entire week and see if I miss it and if it feels like I can get back to writing.

This is the first post in over a week that I’ve read completely and cared enough to comment about. So thanks for your epic-ness! It might not have felt epic to you, but it hit me at just the right time.

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 11:10 am

Perfect timing! I figured some people would be feeling the same way when I wrote this. Sometimes you just have to hit a small group of people at exactly the right time to make an impact. I’m sure you’ll be back on track next week, good luck!

Danny @ Firepole Marketing April 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Really great post, Corbett, and reassuring to know that we’re not alone.

I’m having that kind of week myself, writing-wise, and I was on a deadline to submit a guest post to a major authority blog. Pushing myself to write that one was brutal… :S

I’m looking forward to next week. Or actually, tomorrow. Then I’ll be on my A-game. Yup, that’s my plan. ;)

Corbett April 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Deadlines are always rough. Sometimes I think they instigate dips like these.

Christina Crowe April 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Hi Corbett,

Thanks for this motivating post (and yes, it was motivating!). Just having someone else to relate to, who sometimes feels the way you or I do, is enough to be motivating – and know that you aren’t alone when you’re in a slump.

“Most bloggers I know feel burned out from time to time.” – And just like you said, it happens to everyone. And that’s fine. The important thing to remember is to breathe. Don’t get worked up because you might not be too creative one day. You always have tomorrow.

And if worse comes to worse, one thing that I found that truly helps boost creativity is to read tons and often. Reading helps spark the creative mind, and I often find that I’ll get a sudden idea for a blog post or business venture while browsing the Web or reading a book.

I hope that helps!

Christina

Corbett April 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Great suggestion, Christina. Reading is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.

Alyzande April 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Hi Corbett, it’s nice to connect with another human and empathise with the ups and downs of life. Sometimes I feel a big creative spurt, sometimes I feel I have written everything about my niche product I could possibly think about.

My mate Chris Antoni just wrote a post called 101 Ideas to Motivate You, http://www.thetrafficblogger.com/2011/04/101-ideas-to-motivate-you-and-expand.html which might as least entertain you whilst you’re experiencing this downturn.

Keep going, mate, you’re an inspiration to us small fry :)

Corbett April 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

101 ideas? There must be something in there for every situation ;)

Sunil from The Extra Money Blog April 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

this is very true. one thing that has kept me going is my passion for a diverse set of topics. sure, many would recommend focusing on A particular niche, but in my case I have found diversification effective. I also believe that as long as you/one has opinions and can talk about something they feel strongly about, they can blog forever. blogging to me is no different from a conversation

Corbett April 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm

There is definitely something to be said for making sure you choose a topic you’re interested in. No amount of “opportunity” could motivate me to write about basket weaving, for instance. Some of us need to cast wider nets than others. It sounds like you have your sweet spot figured out, Sunil.

Vic Magary April 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Oh man, I have definitely been there! And especially lately as I get ready to launch my new blog (next week!). So like you Corbett, I’ll be posting content for two different blogs each week – basically 5 posts per week. That’s a whole lot of epic shit to come up with!

But you know what man, it all evens out. There are times when the topics and headlines flow so well I feel like I have to shut them off before I kill a forest of trees with my legal pad scribbling. I love it all. The peaks and the valleys. The dead posts that no one comments on that I thought were awesome. The surprise hits that I thought sucked that spread like wild fire. And even the blank stares into space when I feel like I can’t possibly write another damned thing.

Thanks for putting it out there, that this is something we all go through.
~ Vic

Corbett April 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Whew, that is a lot of posts per week! Good luck with the new blog Vic, I have a feeling you’ll crush it. Please send me a note about the launch, I want to check it out.

The Slurper April 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I love the idea of accepting the idea block and, in a way, riding with it, asking yourself why it’s there, and how to use it to your advantage. Really great advice. Thanks.

Corbett April 8, 2011 at 11:12 am

It can definitely work. I actually became pretty productive for the rest of the week after going through that exercise.

Caleb Wojcik April 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I will run into walls occasionally when I write, but I find that by creating a schedule and sticking to it I always make it over the wall.

Also, if I am not inspired to write something at that very moment I will let myself walk away from the computer or notebook and go for a walk. Stepping away for just a few minutes is usually all I need to get the creative juices flowing again.

I’ll definitely refer back to this post when I hit a motivation wall for writing in the future.

Corbett April 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

I go back and forth on schedules. Sometimes they help me stay in a creative rhythm, other times the pressure of the schedule leads to mediocre content.

Daniel Roach April 8, 2011 at 6:43 am

Yeah, but it’s not totally clear if Gary V really is human, so the comparision isn’t really fair either way :)

Thanks for not including a Top 10 list or anything, this was a much better post. I know that I personally never feel burnt out blogging, but social media takes it right out of me and I’ll frequently drop of Twitter / Facebook grid for a day or so to get my mojo back.

Sometimes you just have to drop it all and go on a fast to get that mojo renewed.

Corbett April 8, 2011 at 11:17 am

Thanks Daniel. Sometimes the top 10 lists help, other times they seem a little contrived. This seemed like the wrong time to use one.

Bradley April 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

Man, must be the way the stars are aligned (sorry, working on a site for an astrologer) or something this week as I’ve had a zero-post week. Haven’t been feeling that “new content” thing churning, just the work-a-day world and catching up with it. Got some great work done, though, while I wasn’t creating content, at least I was finishing up a creation of some sort!

It is pretty crazy, now that you mention it, how much we’re in front of screens. Not just computer screens, but think of all of the screens we look at in a day: computer, phone, TV, monitors displaying train schedules, billboards, mini-billboards … wow now that I think of it, I’m going to head out to Crissy Field. Have a great weekend!

Corbett April 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Hey Bradley, I know the feeling. Sometimes new content has to take a back seat to getting work done (client work, building products, etc.). It’s all about what your priorities are. I haven’t had any zero-content weeks recently, but I definitely go through bouts of neglecting one site or another.

Nice new site, by the way, thanks for sharing.

Liz April 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Thank you. I’ve actually been having one of those months. I’m a gardener and have been working tons of overtime in the garden and don’t feel too inspired to come home and write about it at the moment. I really want to, but I also really want to have a beer and veg on the couch… You have definitely inspired me to get back to it, though. Good luck with your slump.

Corbett April 10, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Liz, if you’re feeling the need to have a beer and veg on the couch, you might just try writing about that exact thing. Gardeners are people too, right? They have ups and downs like everyone else, so I’m sure they would relate to your feelings (and maybe your taste in beer). It could be a win-win situation – you get to write about something other than gardening, and your readers get to connect with you on a different level.

Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 April 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

Listening to talks is pretty much where I get 90% of my inspiration for what to write about. I love that method of sparking the flame full. Now I just need to start capturing all the ideas that come from there in a organized place instead of just piles of note cards strewn all over and sideways scrawls on note pads.

Thanks for reminding me to get my act together so I can make my work easier.

Garden Services In Bolton April 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Any time I’ve been stuck for ideas, I go for a run. This might sound different to anybody elses methods but I’ve solved many problems when it comes to creativity. You’ll also feel great too.

Corbett April 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Great advice, exercise tends to “unstick” me as well.

Martyn April 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I completely disagree Corbett.

If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. If you run out of ideas, fine, quit blogging.

Instead, open Skype and talk to a friend. Read books. Email clients. GET OUT. Invite friends for dinner. Visit till one in the morning.

The ideas will come.

You’ll start blogging again.

Nobody’s going to kill you for waiting 5 extra days before you update. Rare gold is more appreciated than consistent noise.

Brett July 29, 2011 at 3:28 am

I burn out sometimes. One good thing is to have several different sites to work on, so if you burn out of one niche you can keep going in another.

Always have one day a week when you don’t blog or do anything as well.

David William April 7, 2011 at 10:07 am

For sure! I think the root lies in always being curious. Always being engaged. And interested. Take notes or a log and have something to look at when you feel the need for inspiration.

I use a Tumblr for this, but anything could work. As for igniting curiosity separately, I contend it would be harder to not be curious about something somewhere. It’s about un-learning that being curious is a childs game.

Onibalusi Bamidele April 7, 2011 at 10:45 am

BTW I love your new gravatar. I didn’t know at first it was you.

Thanks so much and keep on rocking!

Corbett Barr April 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

Cool, thanks, just wanted to change things up a bit. Glad you like it.

Hector Cuevas April 8, 2011 at 7:42 am

Thanks bro. No, it wasn’t that serious.

Here’s the link to the post:
http://www.hectorjcuevas.com/what-makes-great-blog-content

Corbett April 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

Thanks man, I missed that one somehow. Good stuff, I’m glad I’m consistent at least ;)

Philipp Knoll April 10, 2011 at 2:42 am

That day it has been a longboard – long version of a skateboard – but surfing is definitely on our schedule. Our next plan is to get a kayak and test that. Should be great fun and take my head off topic for a while to fuel up with new ideas.

A controversial tip for bloggers would be: get kids! You are definitely forced to leave the computer behind that way. You’ll look at the time you spend working differently. ;)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Sites That Link to This Post