How to Push Through a Creative Drought

I don’t know if it’s the workload or the time of year or just fatigue. But I’ve had a hard time being especially creative lately.

That’s bad news for a person who runs a company called McLane Creative. My projects and my deadlines could care less how I’m feeling or if I’m inspired. There are people depending on my creative, timely solutions and that’s that.

I have to push through. And I do push through. Getting stuff done is the bottom line.

How I Push Through Creative Droughts and Get Stuff Done

  1. Rest – It might seem counter-productive when you have a deadline and are staring at a blank canvas or a mounting todo list, but the most obvious cause of a creative drought is a lack of rest and play. So take a nap in the middle of the day. Give yourself two hours to read a book and dose in the park. Take Saturday off. You are not a machine, you cannot produce 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. This isn’t a reality show. Making time to rest is the most productive thing you can do.
  2. Exercise – When I hit a creative wall during my day I take a walk. Pushing my son in the stroller or riding my bike for errands instead of driving or even doing jumping jacks in my office helps. I like to think of ideas as a heavy substance inside my body. When I get the blood pumping fast the ideas are able to get pumped up closer to my heart.
  3. Discipline – Sometimes I’m hitting the creative wall because I’ve procrastinated. But most often it’s because a project I finished in the past comes back for immediate changes and edits. That little bit of chaos throws me off. Instinct lies to me, building a desire to both finish my current project and go back and make some quick changes on the existing work. Being disciplined means pushing through what I’m currently working on and making late-breaking changes work with my schedule.
  4. Momentum – As creative people we know that productivity is the result of keeping the fly wheel going. So when I have something flowing I know I need to keep going, even if that means working until 1 AM. I’ve found that when I am in a drought I can’t build or sustain momentum. So set-up your work time or todo list in a way that builds momentum instead of starting and stopping all day.
  5. Change Mediums – Just about everything project I do will end up in a digital format. But when I’m not feeling it I’m quick to try another medium. I am not a great artist, but I use paper and colored pencils. Sometimes I go take photos of architectural elements for a project or shoot some video just to try to sparks something I wouldn’t have seen if I’d just sat down in front of my computer with Photoshop or Illustrator.
  6. Documentation – When things are really, really bad I spend 20 minutes taking all of my tasks for a project and adding them to a Google Docs spreadsheet. This turns my project into a series of small tasks that I can easily do without needing much creativity.
  7. Suspend reality – I have two offices. One in my home and one in shared, rented space downtown San Diego. (Little Italy) That helps me have fresh space in which to work. But sometimes I need to do even more than that in order to manufacture some creativity. Sometimes I work in a favorite coffee shop, sometimes  I book time to work for a day at a friends office, and sometimes I sneak a half day or whole day onto the end of a work trip just so I can work somewhere else. Suspending reality also means shutting down all of the distractions which pull you away from your creative space. (Shutting down chat software, putting your phone on silent and not returning text messages, logging out of Facebook and Twitter, etc.)
  8. Finish something – Perhaps my biggest droughts come when I have lots and lots of projects going and none of them finishing. I’ve found that finishing a project helps me be more creative on my others. It’s as if I can put that project behind me and that gives me more energy/space to think about the others. So finish something! (Or suspend another project to get it off your shoulders!)
Photo credit: Dust Bowl 1936 by erjkprunczyk via Flickr (Creative Commons)





4 responses to “How to Push Through a Creative Drought”

  1. Andy Gill Avatar

    I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a creative, but when it comes down to completing my workload, or whatever I have going on, I’ve found exercising, going to the gym, or playing ball with the guys will jump start my “creative” side. 

    1. Brad Pyne Avatar

       That sounds like a lot of physical activity, I’m not one for that =P.  I love looking through sites like and… the list goes on.  It helps me start to piece together a site in my head and kick start the process.

      1. Adam McLane Avatar

        I have lots and lots of sites I look at for creative inspiration. I used to like Smashing Magazine but the posts just turned into small books… so, so long. I like Vandalay Design’s blog. It’s mucho good. 

  2. Christopher Wesley Avatar


    Great list, definitely agree with finishing something and discipline.  It’s like a hard work out where we just need to focus, buckle down and embrace the pain to get through the droughts.

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