Creatives! What to do if your mind goes blank

Creatives! What to do if your mind goes blank

Genius Journey
Published On:
May 22, 2023

OMG! It’s almost four weeks since I posted the last article on the Thinkergy blog. Am I out of my mind? Or entirely off the rails? For the past 15 years, I have rigorously maintained a bi-weekly rhythm of writing and posting articles for our blog (and for more than 13 years, these were co-published in a bi-weekly column in the Bangkok Post). But in the past weeks, I have been so occupied with urgent, important tasks and projects that somehow, I didn’t find time to write a new blogpost. Truth be told, I also didn’t find the right inspiration to fill that space in my mind reserved for the topic I would write about next in my blog. I have gone blank.

Has this ever happened to you? And what can you do if you go blank? How can you find the next topic, theme, or episode of a continuing creative project you’re committed to producing on a regular, ongoing basis — be it a blog, a column, a podcast series, a video channel, or another creative showcase space?

When life gets in the way of ongoing creation

Sometimes, the tasks, projects, and happenings that keep us busy at work and in our lives seem to all bundle together simultaneously. So what kept me so preoccupied in the last weeks?

  • Being a good host and caring son for my Mom visiting our family here in Bangkok over an extended holiday period.
  • Catching up with good friends and former colleagues, stopping by Bangkok for the first time after the pandemic.
  • Attending to some personal and family issues at home (like dealing with the broken arm of our little daughter and personal health check-ups).
  • Beginning a new term and teaching two courses to a new cohort at my university.
  • Developing and delivering a comprehensive pitch presentation to university top executives.
  • Attending business meetings with clients and prospective investors.
  • Conceptualizing a new research project and collecting the necessary data.
  • Hitting the submission deadline for a new academic conference paper last minute.

Unfortunately, when there are too many things to handle, we don’t have enough time to slow down and get the right inspiration for a suitable topic. But whenever I could take a breath in all this constant hustle and bustle of the past weeks, one nagging question reappeared: “What can I write about next in our blog?”

How to find a new topic for a blog (or similar continuing creative content program)?

In an earlier article titled How to unblock a temporary writer’s block, I already gave suggestions on ensuring a constant flow of creative content when the going gets tough. So why didn’t I follow some of these tips to “un-blank myself” while looking for my new topic?

  • One way to find fresh content for your blog is to talk about some of the things and projects in your professional work or your life. While this direction seems like an easy way out of your content production dilemma, it is not always possible and feasible. For example, you may not be able to share intriguing things happening in specific client projects that you’re undertaking because of confidentiality reasons. Likewise, you may not want to discuss some creative projects as you want to keep them secret until the launch of the new output deliverable (be it a new product, service, book, or whatever else). Or you might want to hold certain information about current activities in your backhand and release them into the public domain later. So in my case, some of these points held over the past weeks.
  • Another way to fill the pages is to go back in time. Consider writing about specific outputs that you have already developed or worked on in the past. For example, at earlier times, when I needed an idea for a blog post, I went back and wrote an entire article about some tools in our X-IDEA toolbox that I hadn’t written about so far. Or I expanded in greater detail on some exercise, activity, or memorable moment from our Genius Journey program of creative leader development. But in the more recent past, I have already done so quite extensively (like these X-IDEA tool articles on Force Field Analysis or Attribute Listing or the articles on how to beat the odds of getting a Eureka moment and what it feels like experiencing one), so it didn’t seem to be an appropriate topic direction at this point.
  • Another direction to pursue is to actively process other creators’ content: intriguing books or videos or some new tool or “hot” method that is the talk of the town right now. Apart from giving credit to the original creator, I believe you need to provide some extra value here by adding a personal twist to the topic. For example, you could synthesize the views of various contributors on a higher level of abstraction. Or you could take a contrarian view on a mainstream topic in your domain or a popular method or tool (such as two critical articles on the Design Thinking method that I published in our blog at various times). But this approach didn’t excite me at the beginning of the new year.
  • Your notebook can be an invaluable source of inspiration for potential content for a blog post. Consider keeping a separate page in your notebook reserved explicitly to collect ideas for possible blog articles. Then, whenever you are in the midst of life, and suddenly you get an idea for a new blog article, write it down on that page. And at a later point, you can always go back to your notebook page with blog article ideas and use this as a source of possible things to write about in your blog. Unfortunately, I had already used up all prior ideas for recent blog posts published over the last months, so my blog post ideas page is blank now, too, and needs fresh inspiration.

Reviewing all these alternatives, I realized today that I had reached a point in my blog where I had really gone blank. What to do now? Time to apply the tool of last resort that I’ve reserved for this case.

Used up all other options? Play the joker card.

In card games like Indian Rummy, Canasta, and Poker, you can play the joker card to trump all other cards. No wonder card players like to put a joker card up their sleeve. Likewise, as a creator, you can keep a “joker card” in your backhand to play when you’ve gone blank (like I have gone in the past weeks). What’s your creative joker card? It is a topic you’ve identified earlier but intentionally kept in reserve to play it out in times of a creative drought.

The joker that I play out today is this article. I had resolved long before that if ever I struggle for a longer time to come up with a new topic that excites me, I would write about how it happens that you can go blank while searching for it and what you can do then. And guess what? I feel completely at ease playing the joker today. Why?

Today’s article is the 401st episode in the Thinkergy blog. And this means I haven’t used my joker on any of the 400 prior occasions. So in this instance, when the hectic busyness of the past weeks has taken a toll on my creativity, I happily admit defeat (finally) and draw my joker by writing this article and asking for your absolution.

But I am aware that playing my joker today means that from now on, I need to figure out a new “joker topic” to keep in my backhand in case I experience a similar “blank screen” in the future.

Conclusion: Get started to get over BPS (Blank Page Syndrome) — and keep a joker up your sleeves

Sometimes, we need to focus our energy on presently more essential things than continuing a blog (or creating content for a comparable periodical publication or media post). Sometimes, it’s also normal for creatives to experience a dry spell. So, don’t beat yourself up. Just relax and accept that we are imperfect human beings. Then, play your joker card to beat your blank idea spell and write a new piece. The important thing is to keep on going. As Charles Bukowski put it: “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

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© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023.

Credits: Title photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash. Photo in the text by by Steve Johnson on Unsplash