What Do We Do When the Well Runs Dry?

creative well runs dry
Creating stuff on a set schedule can be incredibly difficult.

I’m writing this on the way back from a family reunion in Canada, and I had figured the trip would generate some sort of explosion of ideas. But instead I’m sitting here staring blankly at a screen.

As refreshing and beautiful as the trip was, I got nothin’ in terms of writing inspiration.


There are going to be days when our wells of creativity are going to reach low points. We’ll send a bucket down there, only to pull up an empty pail.

So what do we do when our wells run dry? We plow ahead.

We can’t just sit and wait for inspiration, we have to go and find it. Here are a few methods that I’ve found that can work wonders when it comes to sparking a bit of inspiration and stoking our creative fires.

Define the End

Oftentimes we just sit down without a defined ending in mind. The problem with this method is that it can be overwhelming. Not knowing boundaries can set an expectation that you only have to create when it feels good. Having the end goal in mind before you start can help with visualizing what’s needed in between.

Make a Stash

There’s no better feeling than having a reserve of a few posts to be able to draw from when inspiration is lacking. Creating a backup plan for when the inspiration won’t flow can be a lifesaver.

I have a stash of unpublished posts for “rainy days” when nothing seems to be working. I don’t know how many times that little cache has saved my bacon over the years. But even more interesting is how knowing I don’t always need to be creative takes a bit of the pressure off, which allows me to be more creative.

Admire Previous Successes

There’s nothing wrong with looking back through your accomplishments. Taking a walk through your greatest hits might be just the motivator needed for getting out of the doldrums. Slumps happen. The simple act of seeing how far you’ve come might be enough to trigger an idea or provide some form of inspiration.

Try Something New

Sometimes changing a tiny thing can make all the difference. What’s worked best for me is only changing one or two things at a time, but keeping the majority of the routine the same. Work locations, switching from coffee to tea, or some other deviation from the ordinary can work wonders.

The important thing is to just keep plugging away. Eventually the lightbulb will go off, the Muse will return, and all that. Until then, the real battle is to keep at it. To stay seated until you’ve hit your word count, or until you’ve designed the section you need.

There will be days when the well is dry. It’s not whether you can find creativity; it’s how you’ve prepared for it.

Photo by Rajesh Vijayarajan Photography

Leave a Comment

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • fabian August 19, 2010, 2:02 pm

    It’s natural, don’t fight it. I think your subconscious is alway active and simmering ideas that are not ready to be created but soon will by just living? Enjoy the process and you’ll find it not as painful.

  • Carey Moore August 5, 2010, 7:48 pm

    One thing that I do when I have a dry day, is this:
    1. I Give Up on creativity. I announce that it’s just not working today, and decide to do something not-creative, like clean house.
    2. I commit to doing only non-creative work. I clean the kitchen, organize the junk drawer in the office, scrub toilets… I make sure I have a plan to do a whole BUNCH of virtuous but perhaps boring and left-brain stuff.
    3. At the end of a day of that sort of thing, I will take a bath, where I am far away from paper, pencils, or a computer. There is no way I could do sketches or jot down ideas. I am Just Going To Relax.

    Usually I never get to the bath. I find something in the junk drawer that inspires me to make a sculpture, or I come up with a great blog post while cleaning under the sink. Or if I do make it as far as the bath, as soon as I settle into the tub I get a brilliant idea that has me pulling an Archimedes and running through the house looking desperately for a crayon, some eyeliner, ANYTHING to write down this great idea.

    Maybe I’m just perverse, but revoking my permission to do creative work — this flips my Muse into overdrive.

    • glen August 6, 2010, 9:06 am

      Nice! I like the intentional strategy. Your Muse wants what it can’t have… ;)

  • Cristina August 5, 2010, 1:40 pm

    “We can’t just sit and wait for inspiration, we have to go and find it.”
    So true!!! I’ve learnt that on my skin -if I wait to be inspired, I’ll never create anything.
    I’m really new to blogging, but this is how I prepare for rainy days:
    – I have a folder called “Potential posts” where I bookmark inspiring stuff that I could write about, with subfolders for different topics;
    – I also have a word document for posts ideas, where I write a few lines about a topic I’d like to cover, and then copy and paste all the links to websites related to that particular topic.
    – I did a vision board with photos and text that remind me of what I love, and why I want to write about it.
    – I do mind-maps
    When everything fails, I stop writing and do something else – baking, drawing, gardening, painting, dancing…sometimes we just need to let the well refill :)

    • glen August 6, 2010, 9:09 am

      It’s interesting how this post has spoken to a lot of bloggers. I like to use Evernote for post idea collection, but I also use html files for further editing and completing the post.

  • Penelope J. August 5, 2010, 12:50 pm

    Glen, If this is what you write when your well goes dry, you certainly know how to refill it fast. This is a very common problem among writers and bloggers, and let’s face it, inspiration is hard to come by on a regular basis, but even the driest well has a few drops at the bottom that can serve as a jumping point. Thanks for sharing this bloggers’ dilemma.

    • glen August 6, 2010, 9:10 am

      Well, when life gives you lemons… ;)

  • Beth Adele Long August 5, 2010, 8:03 am

    This is awesome. And proof positive that feeling dry doesn’t mean you actually ARE dry of good ideas, since you wrote such a great post out of that feeling of “what now?”

    I used to genuinely believe that I couldn’t generate good creative work unless I felt a certain way. Then I wrote fiction for a game company and had to write and write no matter how uninspired I felt. I wrote some of my best stuff on days when I was dragging words out of the ether, and that’s when the light bulb finally went on. “Oh! You can BE creative even if you don’t FEEL creative! I get it!”

    Not that I don’t forget the lesson, oh, daily…

    • glen August 5, 2010, 8:20 am

      “Oh! You can BE creative even if you don’t FEEL creative! I get it!”

      Ding! Ding! Ding!

      Wow, writing fiction for a game company would be *tough*. You’re a true creative warrior ;)

  • Albert van Zyl August 3, 2010, 10:18 pm

    Your honesty about your ‘dry days’ will be a support to me when I have mine!

    I find that my creativity is sometimes stifled by too much planning of what I need to do and how to do it. At such times it often helps to wipe clean the slate of plans, to look at the goal again (to do good writing, run a successful blog, whatever) and to ask myself what single thing I can do today to get closer to that goal. Then inspiration just rushes back in.

    • glen August 4, 2010, 6:13 am

      Great pointer. Finding just one thing and moving towards finishing that can help build momentum.

  • Anne August 3, 2010, 10:25 am

    Glen, Nice post! Always helpful to get new ideas about creativity. I especially appreciate the “changing your routine,” something I also try to do. BTW, I tried to subscribe but your form didn’t have a submit button. Go ahead and subscribe me if you can. Thanks.

    • glen August 3, 2010, 9:04 pm

      I’m having a look at the email submit button right now. Thanks for letting me know!