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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The “What If” Cure For Writer’s Block


What do you when the creative well runs dry?

Imagine you depend on a well for all your water. What would you do if that well ran dry? How many alternative solutions can you think of?”

That’s the question I posed to the writers attending a First Pages workshop last Saturday. (First Pages are FREE writing workshops co-sponsored by the Loft Literary Center and the Hennepin County Library System.)

Classic Creativity Challenge

Creative people love challenges to imagine multiple possibilities. (The classic test question for creativity is “How many uses can you image for a brick?”) The question about solutions for an empty well has a point beyond the opportunity to demonstrate how adaptable your thinking is.

I know you’re already thinking of solutions, so go ahead and jot them down. How many solutions can you imagine for an empty well? The students came up with many of the thirteen possibilities on my list and added a few I hadn’t thought of.

Beyond the Brick as Bookcase or Dig a New Well

Alternative uses for bricks aren’t much use unless you happen to have a surplus of bricks. The promised relevance of the challenge to devise solutions to empty well lies in the title of the workshop I taught: “How to Generate Material When the Well Is Empty”.

Sometimes resistance is a block, an almost tangible obstacle. But sometimes resistance is not so much an obstacle as an absence — of creative inspiration, energy and initiative. At those times, an empty well is apt metaphor. I maintain that we can translate solutions for an empty water source to solutions for when our creativity runs dry.

Move!

One of my thirteen options (and one that students quickly identified) is to move away from the dry well to a place where water is more plentiful. So how does that apply to solving writing resistance and/or a creative drought?

You can move your writing from your usual location (your office) to a different location (a coffee shop, a library, your car, a park, a government building). The novelty and the new ambient sensory cues can infuse you with new energy and give you a whole new perspective.

Or you could move your writing metaphorically – from one genre to another or from an audience you often write for to a new audience. Or you could shift POV from one character to another, shift the focus of your research or the change slant you’re taking on the topic.

Move could also be a literal instruction. Move your body. Take a walk or stretch break. Exercise does wonderful things for the brain.

What other ways you could “move” your writing or “move” as a writer?

I’ll share a few other solutions to empty well syndrome in upcoming posts. I’d really like to include your ideas, so please comment with your list of answers to the “What if the well runs dry?” question and/or suggestions about how to translate a literal solution (e.g. dig a deeper well) to a writing solution (e. g. dig deeper with your research). I’m eager to see how creative your thinking is!

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  1. Can You Dig Your Way Out of a Creative Dry Spell? | The Bane of Your Resistance - December 2, 2013

    […] the previous post, I observed that sometimes resistance is not so much a tangible obstacle as it is an absence of […]

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