Many writers spend their entire early lives dreaming of the day someone will pay them to put words on a page. Then, when it happens, it’s easy to think we have nothing in the world to complain about — after all, we got our dream, didn’t we?
The thing is, there are very real challenges to this career, some of which can influence our ability to produce. Today, I want to talk about the challenge of trying to be creative when you have no time to recharge.
Being Creative Requires Absorbing Creativity
If the work you’re getting paid to do is relatively straightforward, being creative doesn’t seem to be as important as doing research and getting the facts straight. I make a living writing about personal finance, for example. I don’t need my creative juices to be flowing as much when I’m writing an article that describes the difference between credit scores and credit reports.
But creativity is a lot more vital when it comes time to doing our own work — the kind of work that requires pulling things out of our mind that can’t necessarily be researched or that didn’t even exist before. For example, it’s taken me weeks to go from jotting down the ideas I had for this website to actually writing the posts. Why would I have struggled so hard with writer’s block if I already know what I want to write about?
Because I haven’t been reading lately. I’ve spent so much time writing words for other people that my brain is almost too exhausted to even look at another word. And then, when I try to find something good to read, I come up short. I feel like I’ve been living in a creative desert, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m having trouble drawing the waters of creativity from the arid landscape that has become my brain.
If You Want to Write Better, You Have to Read More
In my case, I got desperate enough to send a creative SOS to my friends. “What are you reading?” I asked over text message to several writers I know. “Please send me any blog or article that has moved you.”
Typically, when my brain becomes a desolate landscape, I turn to fiction. But this time I wanted, needed, to read good blog posts and articles. Working in this arena can make you feel jaded. The writing becomes formulaic, the best work isn’t necessarily what will rise to the top, and you start to think it’s all BS. But deep down I know there’s great writing out there, so I finally asked for help finding it.
And, what do you know, when people started sending me their favorite work, I started to write for myself again. I found the water to draw my creativity from. My brain is finally starting to sprout some life.
Writing for a living is hard work. It’s not working at a machine shop hard work (props to my dad for the years he spent laboring in just that way), but it is hard work for your brain. A few hours of writing can sap any writer’s brain for an entire day, and the thought of sitting down to pick up a book or read an article afterward can often feel too much to ask.
But if you want to write for yourself, you have to read more. It’s just a fact. The trick is finding ways to fit it into your life. Reading before writing, for example, or taking a walk to read somewhere else so your brain feels more refreshed. And it helps to ask your friends for recommendations. It doesn’t even have to be your creative friends. Most people read, even if they’re mostly sticking to things like the news. Ask everyone you know what they’ve liked recently. You might be surprised what comes up.
Not only can this get the creative juices flowing again and possibly even draw you closer to your friends, it’ll give you, the writer, what we all need: A closer glimpse into the minds of our readers. Because it’s not just writers who’ll read your work — hopefully, it’s a mixture of all different types of people. The more you learn what matters to them, the better your own writing can be.