How to Refill Your Creative Cup

By Sue Campbell

Maybe when you sit down to write and absolutely nothing happens. Maybe you can’t even get yourself to sit down to write at all. You tell yourself you don’t have any ideas. You need to wait for inspiration, then you’ll be able to get to work.

Your creative cup is empty. It’s been drained like a cup of espresso after a sleepless night and you don’t know how to fill it up again.

When you’re blocked creatively, it’s tempting to think you just need a break. The force of Resistance (which I talked about in a previous post) is very cunning and will use any tactic it can to get you to quit writing.

But here’s the thing about feeling depleted — whether it’s in your writing or simply in your day-to-day life — there are only three ways to replenish your energy:

Sleep.

Meditation.

And…wait for it…Creativity.

(I learned this from a parenting book, by the way. The excellent You Are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy. She got it from the Austrian philosopher and founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner.)

I submit to you, dear writer, that a break from your creative work is the last thing you need. More likely, you need a break from all your non-creative work (kids, day job, traffic, grocery-getting) so you can spend more time sleeping, meditating and doing your creative work.

But wait, you may object, what kind of an writer goes to bed early and wakes up to meditate? Answer: A super productive one.

I don’t at all subscribe to the notion of the artist who thrives on drama, drunkenness and darkness. The key to creativity is actually self-care and self-discipline.

It may not be sexy, but it’s true.

And lest you think this means casting off all your worldly responsibilities so you can take a nap, it doesn’t. In fact, good self-care is about the only thing that will help you meet your real life obligations while still having a creative life.

Let’s look at sleep. For too many of us, sleep is the first thing we throw overboard when there’s any kind of time crunch. I’m actually lucky because this isn’t even an option for me. If I start skimping on sleep I implode like a toddler almost immediately. This means I’m very motivated to get to bed on time. In fact, most nights I actually fall asleep before my actual toddler does. Just a half hour more of sleep per night might make all the difference in your mental energy, meaning you can more easily get your ass in the chair and write. Try it for a week and see if you don’t feel better and get more work done.

Maybe you don’t think meditation is your bag, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s a great tool for writers because it helps your brain figure out what’s real and what’s just monkey mind. Don’t worry if you don’t know how. There’s a new meditation place in my neighborhood (yes, I do live in Portland — what?) and the sign outside says: “If you can breath, you can meditate.” Just download an app like Insight Timer (it’s free) and get started. And remember, meditation comes in many forms. You don’t have to sit on a cushion, you can do a walking meditation, go for a long swim, take up knitting. You can even combine meditation and sleep by listening to a yoga nidra meditation at bedtime. (This one is my favorite).

Best of all, creativity itself fuels more creativity. Once you start doing your work, everything you see, hear, smell and touch feeds your creativity. You know it’s true because if you’ve ever managed a sustained period of writing you’ve doubtless experienced this. However, if you truly are burnt out on a specific project, I get it. Simply shift to something else and let the other thing rest. Not all of your creative projects need to be writing, either. Kurt Vonnegut used to draw. Lewis Carroll was also a photographer and illustrator. e.e. cummings was not only a poet, but also a painter.

Try any or all of these techniques to get your creative cup overflowing again. But don’t ever let Resistance win by telling yourself you just need a break.

Sue Campbell