Help! My Creative Well Has Dried Up!

A lot of my articles apply directly to creative writing, but I’d like to believe that any creative should be able to re-purpose them to fit their lives. For example, I’ve found that there is a lot of correlation between my musical creativity and my creative writing. This is one of those articles that can apply to any creative.

The creative well is a concept many creatives are familiar with, but they may not be sure what to do when the well runs dry.


What is the Creative Well?

Your creative well is the magic place from which you pull forth your ideas. The term lends to the visual metaphor of a well that you dip into and bring bucket after bucket of creativity. You can keep drawing from this well as long as there’s still creativity inside, but eventually, the quality of that creativity will diminish as you exhaust your resources. Your well will refill, but that can take time and rest before you restart.

To use another visual aid, you can imagine your creative well like a car. The car will continue to operate as long as there is energy driving its engine. Then the fuel will run low and it will need to be refilled. The car isn’t broken, it just needs a more fuel.

The concept of the creative well is something I didn’t make up myself. I’m not actually sure who first came up with the term, but I’ve seen multiple creatives use it to describe the same idea.

It’s important to realize that a dry creative well is not the same as creative block. If you’d like to learn more about that concept (framed for writers), check out my blog “What Is Writer’s Block, Really? And How Do I Fix It?”

It’s equality important to realize that a dry creative well is not the same as creative burnout. It’s similar, but not the same. If you'd like to learn more about creative burnout, read "Healing Creative Burnout."


What Dries the Well?

We have the beautiful ability to piece together ideas into something uniquely original. Humans have become very good at it and creatives excel at doing this. But there comes a point during your process when you reach in to pull forth more creativity and the quality of it has diminishing returns or you find that you creativity is harder to produce. You know that you’re not really out of good ideas for the rest of your life, but the process of it has become taxing.

The million dollar question: Why does this happen?

Just like a natural well, your creative well refills as long as there is still water to be allotted. As long as you nurture a creative mindset and maintain a proper connection with your inner voice, more quality ideas will come. But if you’re continuously pulling from the well, it can dry before it’s refilled. You can pull creativity quicker than it’s inspired.

In short, the act of drawing from your creative well without giving it time to refill dries it. This a normal process and you shouldn’t get upset when you feel like you’ve reached your limit. Instead, focus on refilling the well.


How do I Refill the Well?

The most obvious answer for how to refill your creative well is to take a break. Sometimes you only need a few hours or a few minutes. Sometimes it’s best to wait a bit longer. What’s important is that you give your mind time to rest. The length of time you need may vary depending on the person and situation, but taking a break can be essential to regaining creative flow.

A not so obvious answer is to work your brain on something unrelated to what you’re creating. The most common form of this is to take a walk. I hear over and over than many creatives walk while shaping new ideas (I do it myself). I think the big key is to do something that is a bit repetitive and uses little-to-no creative effort.

Sometimes you need a bit of inspiration to get your juices flowing. If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike, it could be a sign that you need to get out and live a little. One of my favorite vocalists (Anthony Green) did an interview some years back where he was asked about how to write amazing lyrics. His answer was a three-worded masterpiece:

Interviewer: “Got any tips for writing amazing lyrics?”
Anthony Green: “Do amazing shit.”

Another source of inspiration can come from writing prompts. If you think this will help you, check out Bryan Cohen's Build Creative Writing Ideas. You're sure to find thousands of launching off points there!

You can also try consuming other creative content. Write novels? Listen to so music. Write music? Watch a few films. Make films? Good luck: you have a lot of money on the line ;)


How do I Deepen the Well?

What about the billion dollar question? How do you deepen your creative well? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get more out of your creativity at a time? I know that’s what I want to accomplish so I’m guessing you’re hoping for the same. Here’s a few tips that’ll help you deepen your creative well:

1. Exercise Your Creativity.

In my blog on writer’s block, I talked about how it’s important to write every day. Whatever your creative job is, you should do it every day. Can’t manage every day? Just do it as often as possible. One thirty minute workout never made anyone an athlete. But putting in the effort every day you can will get you somewhere. If you don’t exercise your creative muscle continuously, it will not get stronger.

"You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."  – Maya Angelou

2. Outline

This isn’t about deepening your well. This is about redistributing the work so that you tackle the process piece by piece rather than all at once. This is something that seems to be writer specific, but it can apply to any creative effort. Doing the line art before the shading and coloring is a type of outlining. 

3. Push harder

Your mind will turn on the pain before you run out of fuel. This is evident in not only physical activity, but also in mental activity. If you find that you can work for an hour without needing to take a break, push for fifteen more minutes and soon you may find that you can go an hour and fifteen minutes before you need to take a break. Add fifteen more minutes to that and repeat. Push harder and you may find your well is deeper than you thought. Eventually, you’ll come to an upper limit, but you need to explore to find where that limit is.


What About You?

I hope this gave you some ideas on how to get more out of your creative moments. If so, please share this blog with someone who might need it.

How do you deal with a low creative well?

Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!