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How to Refill Your Creative Well

When we’re struggling creatively, we have to make time to be inspired.


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Brooke Harrison

4 months ago | 4 min read
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“I will never have another good idea.” I don’t even have to ask if this is something that’s gone through your head before — this fear is like a rite of passage for us creatives.

We bounce back. Creativity is an input / output system. We’ve got to keep our creativity “fed and watered.” In other words, you’ve got to “refill the creative well,” as they say.

A few months ago, I let my creative well run dry. I felt stressed, anxious, and exhausted. So I took a break, and I picked up a YA novel (recommended by a friend) and realized what I’d been missing.

When we’re struggling creatively, we have to make time to be inspired.

There are plenty of tips out there about stimulating your creativity and refilling your creative well (read, watch TV, etc.). But if you’re going after specific results, you’ve got to be more intentional about your input.

“Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future.” ~ Zig Ziglar

It’s not about consuming untold quantities of media (i.e. binge watching). It’s about feeding your brain the kind of material you want to produce; learning more about your field, your genre, and the type of content that inspires you. These are a few of my favorite strategies fellow novelists can use to “refill the creative well”:

Read something new, reread an old favorite

Writers read. Don’t let yourself go too long without getting lost in a good book. Dive back into your genre. I write YA, so I enjoy reading YA. What’s trending? I’m not suggesting you chase after trends, but be informed about what’s hot in your industry.

I’ve read 10 novels toward my reading goal this year. I really enjoyed Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin, Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas, and Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare. I’ve reread Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

There’s a lot of value in rereading — when it comes to refilling your creative well, you’ll find comfort and familiarity in rereading an old favorite. Remind yourself why a particular story moved you.

Listen to interviews

There’s no better way to learn than by listening to real people talk about their successes and failures, their process for growth. Who are the standout players in your field?

Podcasts are a great platform for listening to interviews. I love 88 Cups of Tea by Yin Chang, a podcast for creative writers and storytellers. 

Yin Chang is a fun, personable moderator, and she interviews authors and industry professionals (literary agents, editors, filmmakers). I’ve listened to many episodes featuring some of my favorite authors, including Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, and Leigh Bardugo.

The authors discuss their creative processes, talk about their books, and share advice.

Research your idols to learn their origin stories

Sometimes I’ll listen to an interview and decide to dive deeper into an author’s story. I’m incredibly inspired by others’ journeys, particularly how they got started. As creatives, I think it’s easy for us to forget that our favorite writers were beginners once, too.

I love listening to authors talk about their rejected manuscripts and horrible first drafts, and what it was like to pitch an agent or revise their debut.

I’ll start with an author’s website, the “About” or “FAQ” pages, and then go down a rabbit hole of Google entries reading blogs, articles, and interviews.

Some authors share resources for writers on their personal websites (bless them). Sarah J. Maas, for example, shares links to her Spotify playlists for each of her novels. Sarah Dennard links to hundreds of her past blog posts and newsletters sharing actionable advice for writers.

Read articles and books on craft

In interviews and podcasts, writers often give great recommendations for books on craft. I’ll immediately “add to cart” on Amazon. Reading books about craft is a great way to learn more about the technical aspects of writing, like structure, style, and technique. Some of my favorites include:

  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (a screenwriting book often recommended for novelists)
  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron
  • Anatomy of a Story by John Truby

Reacquaint yourself with the community on social media

Follow your favorite creatives on social media. Engage with the online community. You’ll feel inspired when you’re surrounded by like-minded people.

Twitter is a great platform for industry news, so be sure to follow authors, agents, and publishers. I’ve enjoyed Alexandra Bracken’s Instagram “writing diaries,” a series of videos in which she shares advice for writers at each stage of her drafting process.

I recently tuned in to the YallWest online book festival (appropriately dubbed “YallStayHome” due to the pandemic). The panels are on YouTube if you’re interested in checking it out.

Watch a book-to-movie or TV adaptation

How did the filmmakers portray the story on the screen? Watch with a critical eye for story structure and character development.

What’s better about the book, and what translates well for the screen? This is a fun but educational exercise… it also doesn’t hurt to imagine my own ideas coming to life on the big screen.

Take copious notes

Jot down anything and everything you’re learning. Anything and everything that inspires you.

When I’m reading or listening to podcasts, I’ll make note of fantastic quotes in my bullet journal. Taking notes is one of the best ways to prime the pump for new ideas.

Developing a method for idea capture is important, because you’ll create space for your brain to think and generate new ideas. You risk letting your interesting thoughts or ideas slip away if you don’t write them down. The process, of course, should be unique to you.

Takeaway

Don’t let your creative well run dry! While it’s important to create consistently, it’s just as essential to feed your creativity. As writers, we need fodder for our imaginations.

Creativity is not a passive process… take the time to learn more about your craft and to be inspired by the work of others. Your input will determine your output.

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