Writer Chats, Part II: Cures for Creative Roadblocks

We’re thrilled to share this second post in our Writer Chats series, which comes from the ever inspiring Nicole Gulotta. Nicole blogs at Eat This Poem and founded the food philanthropy site The Giving Table. This post, which deals with creative roadblocks, is excerpted from her most recent issue of the Right Brains Society newsletter, a splendid source of creative inspiration, if ever there were one.


If you find yourself sitting in front of a computer screen for long stretches of time, you’ll probably hit a wall. Even if you spent the last hour typing away and have something to show for it, you’ll eventually reach your limit or feel stuck, but it doesn’t mean your creativity is gone for good. Instead, it’s a gentle nudge telling you it’s time to take a break.

Moments of frustration in writing happen to all of us, but rather than give myself a hard time when the words stop flowing, I take it as a sign to change scenery. In my experience, the cure for almost all creative roadblocks is taking a walk.

We all know that exercise benefits our physical health in a variety of ways, and we should all make an effort to do something every day, even if it’s as small as taking a short walk on your lunch break or doing 10 minutes of relaxing yoga poses before bed. (If you’re struggling to build an exercise habit, Zen Habits has a great tutorial on the subject.) But the benefits of exercise extend beyond our physical bodies. An article in Fast Company puts it this way:

“The physical state of our bodies can either serve or subvert the quest to create genius. We all know this intuitively. But with rare exceptions, because life seems to value output over the humanity of the process and the ability to sustain genius, attention to health, fitness, and exercise almost always take a back seat. That’s tragic. Choosing art over health rather than art fueled by health kills you faster; it also makes the process so much more miserable and leads to poorer, slower, less innovative, and shallower creative output.”

Newsweek confirms that “almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.”

All roads lead to the pavement (or the pool, or the slopes). The reason it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do is when it comes to creativity, the point isn’t the type of exercise you choose, but forcing your brain into a new pattern of thinking. Exercise fuels the right brain, so the next time you feel uninspired, try taking a walk around the block.

Here are a few more tips for when you’re stuck.

  • Use downtime (like while you’re commuting or running errands) to think through challenges. By not sitting in front of the computer screen, your mind will wander more easily. You’ll also feel extra productive when you use this time to enhance your creative life.
  • Say it out loud. In the privacy of your home, when no one is listening, read your work aloud. This helps enormously when editing. David Sedaris thinks so, too.
  • Intentional exercise. Sometimes I go for a walk with a very intentional problem I want to solve. For instance, I might be working on a blog post and feeling like I’m not making the right connection with the poem I’m using, and I want to think through a few lines. Being in a new environment often makes all the difference.
  • Cardio. If you’re craving a stronger workout, try cardio. Swimming, running, volleyball, or 30 minutes on the elliptical machine will boost your mood and stimulate the creative forces in your brain.
  • Read something new. Spend time reading a new book to help fuel your writing. You’ll walk away rested and ready to tackle your latest project. If you pick up an old favorite from the shelf, you might also discover long-forgotten notes scrawled in the margins or underlined passages that will inspire.
  • Give yourself a break. Pushing through a wall will only make things worse, so listen to your inner voice that knows when you’ve exhausted your creative energy. It’s ok to walk away, look at the pages tomorrow with fresh eyes, or even not write for a few days. Self-care, even when pursuing creative endeavors, is enormously important.

Do you have any tips for how to get through a creative road block? Share them in the comments!

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Nicole for contributing this creativity-encouraging post! If reading this post gets your own wheels turning about the nature of writing and creative work, let us know.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

15 thoughts on “Writer Chats, Part II: Cures for Creative Roadblocks”

  1. Thanks Shanna for this lovely and informative post through Nicole!
    Nicole, I have long time back subscribed to your newsletter and it’s a pleasure to read it always!

  2. I find that looking through photos sparks words when I get in a creative stall. Something about the details usually kick starts my brain and I am ready to go again

    • Thanks, Wesley! I love Nicole’s perspective especially — she’s actually the one who inspired the line-a-day journal we’re both doing now! Her newsletter is so good.

  3. Thanks Shanna and Nicole–this is such a terrific series! (And Nicole, I LOVE your newsletter, too!)

  4. Fantastic post, Nicole. I couldn’t agree more! For me, it’s a good run that gets the creative juices flowing again, particularly if I can enjoy that run on a quiet trail through the woods. Loving this series, Shanna!

  5. This series is so fun – some great things to remember when you’re feeling in a creative rut. Luckily, reading both of your blogs offers a lot of inspiration always. xo Nicole

  6. Couldn’t agree more, Nicole! Great tips. Walking keeps me sane and allows me to check out for a while. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I solve a lot of problems while I walk. Thank you for these writer chats, Shanna!

    P.s. Shanna, I read your ebook this weekend! You guys give me hope.

    • Hi Kate! Glad to hear you’re also a walk-to-problem-solve kind of gal. It’s always my first line of defense when I’m stuck.

  7. Nicole and Kathryne, It’s always such a pleasure to hear from your voices. K – I’m so honored you read it! Thank you for those kind words.

  8. Such great advice! Sometimes, my longest hours in front of the computer screen are my least productive. But when I’m randomly driving somewhere, a wave of creativity just hits. Love this series!


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