Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Stuck in a Creative Funk? Try These 12 Tricks

It happens to the best of us. Eventually, we all get stuck or stymied. Even the brightest among us falters or fails.

The real winners at life are those who learn to accept the ebbs and flows and roll with the punches — those who persevere anyway. But this can be hard. 

Creative Funk

Photo credit: Martinak15 (Creative Commons)

Because creativity often happens in fits and starts. It can feel a bit capricious. We need to embrace this creative life for what it is. We can’t fight it, but we can manage it.

If you’re not going to go absolutely insane, you’ll want to learn a few tricks of the trade.

So what do you do when you find yourself in a creative funk? Here are 12 tips:

  1. Realize this will not last forever. You aren’t doomed. There is hope.
  2. Take a break. At least one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
  3. Eat something. Sometimes, we skip lunch and starve ourselves, because of work. Nourishment may be all you need to get started again.
  4. Laugh. Even if you don’t feel like it. This is reallygood for your health. (If you need prompting, watch this.)
  5. Listen to music. Preferably, something without words. This triggers something in your soul that other music doesn’t. I can’t explain it, but just trust me. Listen to something classical or ambient. Let the music take you somewhere. (I suggest the Explosions in the Sky Pandora station.)
  6. Pray or meditate. You’ve got your beliefs, and I’ve got mine. But there’s something wonderful that happens when we still our minds and call upon God to intervene. If this is new to you, give it a try. Who knows how the Muse may grace you.
  7. Get some exercise. Go for a run or work out for 30-60 minutes. When you’re crunched for time, jumping jacks and pushups can do wonders.
  8. Sing. It doesn’t have to be good. Just move your voice up and down.
  9. Call a friend. Make it someone you haven’t talked to in awhile. Those we love most can bring out the best parts in us that we’ve forgotten.
  10. Read. Not a blog or email. Those don’t count right now. Go read a book or magazine. Even the newspaper. Unplug.
  11. Drink water. Get some fluids in you. You could be dehydrated. (Most people usually are.)
  12. Watch a movie. Take some time to reactivate your visual sensory capacity. There are some great films to be seen.

Those are some of the things I do when I felt creatively blocked or resisted.

What do you do? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: martinak15 (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    As always – great thoughts my friend!  Today is an exciting day for me – my new eBook, Creating Your Business Vision is available! And you have played a key role (along with Michael Hyatt, Building Champions, and many others) – so, in a way, it’s your eBook too! Here it is – http://michaelnichols.org/business-vision.

    It’s not enough – but I just want to say thanks – I am looking forward to your continuing influence in my life and work and getting better connected in the future!

    Congratulations! ;)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       thanks, Michael!

  • http://twitter.com/michaelwroberts Michael Roberts

    Running is one of my favorite ways to allow ideas to become more coherent. 

    Sometimes, something as simple as doing dishes or folding laundry will give me the chance to do something with my hands and allow my mind the chance to wander / fix creative problems.

    • http://inspiretothrive.com/ Lisa Buben

      I so agree with this one. Sometimes my mind will race while I’m walking and I have to leave myself a voice message so I don’t forget!

  • http://twitter.com/LynnHBlackburn LynnHugginsBlackburn

    It’s not something you can do as easily as hopping out of your chair for a few jumping jacks, but one of my favorite ways to renew my creativity is to see a LIVE performance…musicals, plays, concerts…there’s something about watching creativity and art in action that always results in an avalanche of inspiration.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       love that. great idea.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    Running helps me in so many ways. It helps my prayer life. I get tons of ideas when I get going. It’s like my mind unlocks. The only problem sometimes is keeping up with what I get. I almost need to have pad ready to write them down.

    • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

      Running notebook….it’s going to be big.  I’d buy one.

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        Call yourself on your phone and use voicemail for something useful :) 

        • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

          I could do that…I’d be out of breath.

  • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

    I go for a run.  Helps me sort things out.  Usually it only takes me 3-4 miles to get out of the funk, but it could last up to 7-8.  At that point, I’ll just cry and walk home.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       I do that, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/russell.petcoff Russell Petcoff

    Playing with my golden retriever Brinkley always puts me in a good mood. His world is always “golden.” 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       taking my dog for a walk is something I also do.

  • http://twitter.com/cynicalbynature Kevin Basil

    Great tips Jeff. When I’m in a funk I like to work the pouncing bag or play my drums. I find that exercise simulates you in different ways and can help you just zone out for a while. Expressing myself through other forms of art unlocks my creativity as well.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       awesome, Kevin. I also pick up my guitar. that always helps.

  • http://lifebeforethebucket.blogspot.com/ Adrian Waller

    I try cleaning. Whenever I’m organizing stuff or doing dishes, my mind clears for a bit and I sometimes have some great ideas.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       this is a big de-stresser for me.

  • http://rebootingworship.com/ Jamie Kocur

    I sometimes have to find something ELSE creative to do. I’m usually working on music or writing, and I hit a brick wall. Photography is a good way to get my creative juices flowing again, so I often grab my camera and take a walk. Or sometimes coloring, making a collage, or painting. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       totally makes sense. love this approach.

  • http://twitter.com/wilsonbec Rebecca Wilson

    Running… it always brings and clarifies thoughts that trouble me… 
    sometimes I wish I ran with a tape recorder in my head though.  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       agreed

  • http://www.sminso.com/ Chris

    Great advice!  I usually “un-plug” when I am in a creative slump.  Getting away from the computer and doing something else has always worked!  One of my favorites is to play a board or card game with a friend.  This helps me stop thinking about work and get the creative juices going.  I usually find that when I get back to the computer I am ready to go!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       this is such an important discipline and something that I honestly struggle with.

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

    I agree with Larry… Exercise gets my mind going again…

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Meet someone for lunch or coffee and have a nice long conversation. I get more inspiration from this than anything else. If you haven’t done this lately, I recommend you do it! 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       awesome. getting real social interaction is so key.

  • http://www.voyagersquill.com/about Patrick Hearn

    I would also suggest videogames – they’ve always been a passion of mine, ever since I was a kid. Now they work very well in absorbing me and making me forget the stress of a problematic plotline. Usually something like Starcraft, though, where I have to think about what I’m doing, and not something mindless that would allow my thoughts to wander.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Starcraft — nice. Old school.

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    I get out into nature — even just my own backyard. Sometimes I grab my camera. Taking  pictures helps me slow down and appreciate the wonders right in front of me. Sadly I’m apt to miss them because I’m moving too fast.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       love that, Michelle. thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd400 Todd Smith

    Good stuff, thanks

    Todd Smith
    http://www.lifeatlivinghope.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/HomemakersDaily HomemakersDaily

    I usually go work on my to do list.  Since I write about homemaking, if I go do some “homemaking”, I usually come up with at least a couple of ideas. 

  • http://www.TehLemonsmith.com Tyler Smith

    Seems like most of you are into running, I would try that if I didn’t hate running. Instead I take a nice, leisurely stroll.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       hah! nice, Tyler… :)

    • http://lauriewallin.com/ Laurie Wallin

       I’m with you. Boo: running. Yay: frisbee with my dog! :)

  • http://www.chadgibbs.com Chad Gibbs

    Reading and listening music usually work for me, if not, I plan an elaborate robbery of my local credit union (but don’t carry it out…..yet)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      music is so important.

  • http://www.peak313.com/ Clare

    I go for a run!!! Inspiration, creativity and “the flow” follows quickly! 

  • Anonymous

    I light candles.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       good for you. too much work for me.

  • Anonymous

    My theory on the power of wordless music: It helps you feel without telling you what to think. Wraps you in an audible emotional blanket that uses your own emotion as energy to warm your soul.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Love that.

  • MM

    Wow, before writing: string beads, knot pearls. After writing, string beads, knot pearls. I own a bead shop and oddly enough, when I get stuck sometimes, I find that simply stringing beads on beadwire or knotting a strand of pearls is a great way to relax and vegetate. I begin to work out the plot sticks. I also enjoy Mahjong and using my fireplace or candle apps to let my mind unwind. Sometimes I’ll go through artistic photographs to see if there is something in the photo I can use in my work. I’ve written whole chapters using that method.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       very interesting!

  • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com/ Katie Axelson

    One of my former professors used to say, “Unproductivity fuels productivity.” That is, if you’re not getting anything written, go do something else. Cut the grass, do the dishes, knit… words will probably come when you’re not staring at the blank screen anymore.
    Katie

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Katie, I LOVE that quote. excellent. so true. thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.nginaotiende.blogspot.com Ngina Otiende

    I look turn away from the screen, close my eyes, put my head between my hands and squeeze (gently)…usually helps for those small funks. :)

    I should try running.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       interesting. :)

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    I like the points of taking a break and listening to music. As I’m tpying this right now I’m listening to music, love it!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       awesome, Kimanzi!

  • http://ayearinthespirituallife.blogspot.com/ Dayna Renee Hackett Bickham

    I turn on some Praise and Worship. This is what I am listening to these days. http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/matins-vespers/id491521585   
    I also get up and stretch, though the only running I do is to the table! These other tips are getting printed out and put up by my desk for reference though. Thanks again Jeff! 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       stretching is something I overlook. thanks for sharing!

  • Rosalie Duryee

    Playing with or petting my cat always makes me feel good. It might not be appropriate for the caffeine addict, but a good cup of coffee always helps me too. I don’t slug it all day long like some, though. The caffeine might play a small role, but really it’s the time I take to sit, drink in the aroma and the flavor, and just relax. Not much you can do with both your hands around a warm mug.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       so good. when i was working on a book, I was drinking coffee at night. just a nice refresher. a good break in the day.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    Like many of the other comments, running.    It seems to take care of  not only the creative funk but every funk.  Some times  my husband will say…”don’t you want to go running?”  Even he knows when I need to run :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       :)

  • http://thisgalsjourney.wordpress.com/ Jennifer

    yes, music with no words does wonders for me. My current favorite is lively, traditional Irish music. I breathes life into my soul.

    I get down, un-plug and play with my kids. Read that dad-gum Care Bear book AGAIN with the baby.

    People watching is also a favorite of mine. Sometimes I just veg and watch; others I play the “who are they, where are the going, where did they just come from” game.

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    I think doing something completely unrelated to writing can help. Like laundry or the dishes. 

    • http://www.chadgibbs.com Chad Gibbs

      Oh that’s perfect, because I have a lot of dirty dishes.  

      • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

        You can do mine too if you want. I just want to help you be a better writer. 

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

           Chad, are you starting a service? what’s your 800 #?

  • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

    Running is definitely one of my top picks to get the juices flowing. I also recommend just powering through the work, until you come up with something and then focusing on that (Which is similar to point #1). Finally, as far as music goes I have a few albums I bought on iTunes for cheap that are meditative and relaxing sounds (ambient sounds). I find that listening to this as I write helps me focus my intent.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       so good. so hard. (for me.)

  • Karenswank66

    Sit beside a lake or river watching the light change on the water and not trying to think.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       nice. now, I just need to find a lake… great to see you here, Karen.

  • Meg R

    When the going gets tough for me, I turn to  my harp and work on the gentle notes that soothe the savage beast within me.  I like folding laundry as another satisfying activity.
    Winston Churchill said that everyone should have two or three hobbies we reaally like.  So having those few things to spend time with is an easy fix. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       love that, Meg.

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    Great suggestions.

    I find that consuming content helps foster creativity. Whether that’s reading books/blogs, watching a movie, observing people or listening to music.
    I try to keep track of ideas in Wunderlist with one line “prompts” that come to mind throughout the day. Then when I have time to sit down and write I can pick from a self-generated list.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       I use Wunderlist, too! Albeit, rather poorly.

      • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

        Sounds like me and Evernote. I like the idea of structure and workflow, but my “notebooks” are a mess. I’ll use it for drafting sometimes or capturing larger chunks of a blog post idea.

  • http://uppside.blogspot.com/ Susan Upp

    Sleeping – my best ideas ALWAYS come buzzing when I want to get some sleep.

    Reading – sometimes I’m so distracted by my ideas and inner narrative that I have to go back and re-read whole pages.

    (great ideas, thanks dude.)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       nice. I could do more that, I’m sure.

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Great suggestions, Jeff.

    I like to work 1-2 hours, then take a break, no matter what. At least a 20 minute walk and I leave the devices at the office.

    Great music to work to: Ulrich Schnauss, Explosions in the Sky or for something faster, Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook). Great to work to.

    There are some pretty good pushup workout routines available on the iPhone. Anything to get away from the screen, right? I find doing this stuff in short bursts is best. I really can’t stand sitting down for more than an hour or two. I might just get one of those stand up desks.

    I can’t sing and my office neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it ;)

  • Cynthiajmj

    That was a wonderful post  sir….thank u

  • http://www.unchartedstreams.com/ Josh Taylor

    I don’t

  • http://twitter.com/BetsyKCross Betsy Cross

    I call somebody or drop in on a friend to chat (about them , not me), rearrange my furniture ( a change in my environment loosens everything up), or I clean. Everything on your list works for me. Just added the other three  for when all else fails! LOL!

  • http://www.zahndrew.com/ Andrew Zahn

    You betta puh-reach that truth Jeff!

    I played with some candy to break some creative ground earlier this week… kinda a combo of #2 and #3.

  • http://deepfragilegrace.com/ Liz

    I still stand by my thoughts: cooking and crosswords.  Not sure why this helps me (maybe a psychiatrist could help me sort that out :), but for some reason, engaging my more “logical” side of the brain lets ideas peculate better.

    Thanks for the list! This is handy!

  • http://www.brendonwilsoncreative.com/ Brendon Wilson

    #11 … DRINK WATER …. that is a huge issue to anything, not just creativity … big Mantra is DRINK MORE WATER (especially if you live in Arizona ) Thanks for the great post – will be sending it on to my team. 

  • http://twitter.com/RoweMatthew Matthew Rowe

    Great advice, and it’s some that I’ll be referring to a lot in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/Ashley_E_Prince Ashley Prince

    I like this post a lot. I find that working out and listening to music spark the most creativity. In fact, my book that I’m working on is inspired by the song Pearl by Katy Perry and is inspired by true life accounts of my sister-in-law who suffered an abusive relationship. 

    I really, really, like this post. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Ashley. Sounds interesting!

  • http://www.facebook.com/laeaton1 Lisa A. Eaton

    Great post! These tips are so simple, yet I often forget to employ them. I have a hard time with #2 unfortunately. I’m my own slave driver! LOL

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    Jeff

    I got in a creative funk that lasted almost two weeks. Granted, I was at SXSW and we were doing a major design overhaul on BlogcastFM. But I completely neglected my blog during that time. The funny thing was taking a complete social media sabbatical and doing nothing for a day got me out of it.   I think that once you’re able to identify your creative triggers you an really rock it. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       social media sabbatical? sounds wonderful. :)

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com/ Mike Hansen

    Walk, walk walk. I’m realizing clearly this evening my desire to share and finish drafts is directly correlated to not walking like I should. And I always get creative ideas while walking. It almost never fails. 

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    #5 and #7 work for me. Listening to some good tunes, or a good ol’ pick up game on the courts gets me back on track. 

  • Vickie McGee

    Preparing for creativity abysses works wonders, too. Here’s three things I do:
    1. Pavlov’s writer: When I’m at my most creative, there’s one particular music track I play on loop. Then, if the words aren’t forthcoming at a future time, I listen to that track and let it tease them out.
    2. Exercise the mind: Exercising your muscles may be a great way to spark creativity, but exercising the mind is, too. When I’m struggling, I pull out my old faithful 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley – a book of challenging and thought-provoking writing exercising. I often find that just the mere action of putting words onto a page is enough to jump start my mind again.
    3. Monogamy is dead: By having more than one project on the go, if the words aren’t flowing for one, I can move to the other and try my luck there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thebobhester Bob Hester

    I used to write speeches for senior executives in the telecommunications industry. Often I would get stuck. The thoughts stopped coming. I didn’t know where to go. When that happened, I would leave the office, jump in my car, and head down the highway. Within five minutes, I’m scribbling on a note pad. The speech begins writing itself. There’s probably a reason this works — something about left and right brain activity. But I didn’t care. It just worked.

  • LissBliss

    Thank The Lord, turning to him for a bit can do wonders for me. :)

  • http://twitter.com/JohnMc_Lpool John Mc

    Great blog. I do lots of those things. But also I often just write something else.

    Twitter: @JohnMc_Lpool
    Blog: http://johnmcwriter.wordpress.com

  • http://bzthreads.net/ Barbara

    I like the Pandora link.  I’m listening now.  I’m a visual artist and life threw me a few curveballs that left me unable to even touch my art.  I decided to work on my envirnment for a while.  I tackled repairs and painting in several rooms of my home.  It’s starting to help.  Seeing my environment in a new way makes me feel uncluttered inside.