Reading time: 7 min 26 sec
What to do when you run out of ideas: 4 tips to kickstart your inspiration
In 1978, I was 20 years old.
I had also been working for 3 years as a journalist for a magazine called “Skate France International.” I had already written some 30 articles for the magazine when they sent me from Paris to Los Angeles to cover a skateboard tournament at a skate park called The Runway. And it was featuring the best and most famous skaters of the time.
One of my articles from 1978
For me, writing about skateboarding was a very easy task, and this assignment was a breeze.
However, I wanted to do more than write for a skate magazine.
Fortunately, Gerard Vandystadt, director of the Vandystadt press agency, came along for the trip. At the time, the agency had a grand total of 4 employees, and was considered a startup (even though that word didn’t even exist in 1978). Now Vandystadt Agency employs hundreds of people and distributes pictures and reportages all over the world…
In addition to the skate contest, Gerard Vandystadt took advantage of the opportunity to visit the most well-known places that Los Angeles had to offer: Hollywood, Venice, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, etc., and took pictures to distribute and sell via his press agency.
Going back to Paris, and taking advantage of my friendship with Gerard Vandystadt, I offered to write a press release about Los Angeles tourist places for his agency.
“Fantastic! I love the idea!” he told me…
It was Lonnie Hiramoto who won the tournament in 1978. The photographer in the back is Christan Petit from the Vandystadt press agency. Photo JAMES O’MAHONEY
However, you’ll never believe what happened to me…
He first asked me to come to his agency. To motivate me, he showed me some of the thousands of pictures that he and his team had taken in Los Angeles. Then, he gave me a typewriter (the computer still hadn’t been invented) and told me to go ahead.
Since I only had to write 100 words, I thought that it was going to be a piece of cake, especially because I had already written hundreds of pages for the magazine.
I felt invincible…
I started with the first sentence… Everything was going well…
Minutes and Minutes passed, my mind became tetanized, totally blank.
Guess what? I couldn’t finish the sentence.
Just as the sheet of paper inserted in the typewriter, everything was left blank. That had never happened to me before, so I panicked.
But the more I panicked, the less ideas I had…
After an hour, the panic became a physical pain, especially after seeing that I couldn’t even type one more word.
I spent 5 hours imploring, sweating, crying, mentally tormented to finish a damn 100-word text. And I promised myself that if that was the first it happened to me, it would also be the last time.
And it never happened to me again.
Now, I write for various web sites. I write in French, Spanish, and English. Currently, 80% of what I write is in English, and according to Grammarly’s statistics, in the last 4 years, I’ve written 25 million words in English (thank you big data for monitoring everything I do…)…
What I find incredible is not that I fear not having new ideas, but that I fear that I won’t have enough time to write everything I want to write.
I need to write. If I don’t write 1000 or 2000 words every day, I feel bad, like I’m missing something.
I realize that I have incredible luck. Not everyone can boast that…
In fact, in the writing world, many fear the blank page.
Is the blank page a syndrome?
Having the blank page syndrome is not a joke because it unleashes an abominable amount of stress for writers.
My question for you is: Have you ever run out of ideas?
The honest answer is “sometimes”.
Well, I also experience days when it seems I can’t generate new writing ideas.
Nevertheless, I have a few tricks, and when I find myself in this awful state, I take the following steps to get back to normal:
1. I spend a lot of time reading
I read for at least 2 hours per day. I read about everything. I read stories about politics, technology, gossip…
Reading makes you a better writer. You absorb what you read: the structure, how to transmit emotions, rhythm, and how to motivate.
That is also true for writers.
Think about it…
As a writer, you need to understand how to structure works to be able to connect with the emotions of the readers and to write copy that motivates your readers into becoming buyers.
You can learn all this by merely reading.
And you don’t even have to read that much. With just 20 minutes a day, you can improve your ability to write dramatically.
Jazz musician Paul Desmond says: “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught”.
You can be taught the principles of good writing, but what you really need is to see them in action. In other words… you need to read. And write afterwards, a lot…
2 I understand that the ideas are never mine
5 years ago, I took a formation on graphic design in Venice. One of the courses that impacted me the most was a course about the process of creation… I’ll explain more soon…
Outside the profession, people believe that a “creative” make up things from nothing. But as Billy Preston would say, nothing from nothing leads to nothing; and the idea that something could come from a void couldn’t be further from the truth.
Instead, the creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas. Creative thinking is the task of recognizing the relation between concepts… To be creative is not about being the first person in thinking of an idea. More often than not, creativity is about connecting ideas.
Sometimes I feel like an alchemist who mixes everything in a huge cauldron hoping that a magical potion or some other miracle comes out of the emulsion…
That’s why, whenever I become too egoist and start feeling like a brilliantly creative person, I go back to that famous quote from Marianne Williamson:
“God is the water; you are the faucet. If you don’t open up the faucet, the divine water will not flow for you.””
It reminds me that my ideas do not necessarily come from me.
Once I realize this, I relax, I let myself go and let the ideas flow. (And you know what? They always appear.)
3. I recycle existing content.
There is nothing wrong with recycling. In fact, it’s currently very trendy for any products we buy and throw away after use, so why not do it with words?
A good idea always works and ca always be recycled.
I’m going to give you an example:
I worked for 7 years as the musical director for a FM radio station. I invented my programming wheels where the most famous songs were repeated every hour, the least famous every day and the oldest every week. 30 years later, I was trying to publish a mix of memes, articles, and tips on Facebook when I remembered the musical wheels. I applied the musical wheel system, and reader interaction shot up by 400%.
A musical programming wheel that I used to use on the radio in 1982 helped me lay a structure to program my Facebook posts in 2006…
Now, I read articles that I’ve written before (or I read publications from other authors), and I see if I can write sequels based on those publications.
For example, I can select a point or section from the article and expand on it. Just recently, I was explaining how musical wheels can be adapted to publishings on social media. I’m definitely going to write an article about this topic… Want to know more? Let me know down in the comments, the more demand I have, the faster, I’ll write it…
A while ago, I wrote a 10,000-word article on how to use rhetorical devices for advertorial redaction and copywriting. I used that text as the basis to write a 20,000-word book that I’m selling for $12.97, and I’m working on a 5-hour long video course that I’m selling for $397.
I’m recycling that article about copywriting in a guide and a video course…
Of course, the video course contains much more information, it’s more extensive and goes beyond the book, which, in turn, contains more information than the article… If you write texts, you have to read it; it’ll help you.
However, the basis of all of this is an article that I’m recycling…
Another thing that I do is read all comments on the existing publications. People love sharing their experiences, and some even begin debates in the comments section, which is a gold mine for ideas.
4. Make generating ideas a habit, not a unique task
The search for creative ideas should be a habit, not an occasional task in which you only become involved when you need to create content. If you really want to have great ideas constantly, it’s important that you make a regular effort.
Subscribe to industry bulletins and continue going out to meet people and to assist to events. When your mind is constantly exposed to new things, new ideas will naturally occur to you.
What should you do when your “well of creativity” is running on empty? Share your opinion in the comments below.
P.S. I originally wrote this piece in Spanish. It was Translated by Amaury Lannes.