Creative blocks come with the creator territory. It’s not due to a lack of initiative or any other single culprit but a variety of pests that can swarm at once.
Many factors can contribute to creative block: stress, depression, fear of rejection, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and inexperience, to name a few.
To overcome creative block, podcasters should pause and assess where they are and where they want to go. When you encounter a roadblock, these tactics will help get you up and running again.
Types of creative block
Creative block is the inability to start or continue a project due to a lack of creative energy, focus, or inspiration. You’ve probably heard of writer’s block, a similar concept that grapples with the dilemma of the blank page. The same can be true for podcasters when they’re confronted with an empty audio folder or calendar.
Read on to discover some forms of creative block specific to podcasters and the tools for overcoming them.
Coming up with a unique idea for a podcast
One of the many blessings of podcasting is the vast creative possibilities, but for some, that can be a curse. When selecting a podcast topic, some questions to think about include: what makes you curious, how can you tell a story, and why should you be the one telling the story?
Developing new episode ideas
If your show is daily, weekly, or even less frequent, thinking of new, fresh episode ideas can be another creative obstacle. If this is a tricky area for you, consider reevaluating your posting cadence to stretch your current bank of ideas further and allow for more time to build up more topics.
Thinking of guests or interview questions
Whether your podcast is interview-based or you have occasional guests, you might struggle to find the right person. Then, planning your questions and running the actual conversation could be another problem area. As with most aspects of podcasting, conducting great interviews will get easier over time. If booking guests becomes a challenge, consider diversifying your episode formats so you don’t have to rely on a guest for every one.
Creating cover art
If your strengths don’t lie in the visual or design space, creating cover art could induce sighs and shrugs. To help with this specific block, follow some useful cover art dos and don’ts. And with Anchor’s Cover Art Creator tool, it does the work for you—all you have to do is decide on an image and a font.
Choosing a podcast name
Sometimes the hardest tasks can appear small at first. Picking a title for your podcast might come down to a word or two, but it represents the whole show. To determine the name of your podcast, you have to consider your content, online searchability, and title length, among other factors.
Creative block can keep podcasters from enjoying and evolving their craft. Some common remedies include taking a break, getting a good night’s sleep, and temporarily distracting yourself with an unrelated task or activity. But when the typical tricks don’t work, the following solutions will give podcasters what they need to recalibrate.
Rediscover the why
Approach creative block by remembering why you started your podcast in the first place. If you are in the pre-launch stage or further along in your podcasting journey, what was the seed that led to your podcasting aspiration? Use why your podcast matters to you and your listeners as your guiding compass. What value does your content, message, and unique insight provide?
As an exercise to help inspire creativity, set a timer for 30 minutes and write down main themes or ideas that pop into your head about one or many topics. Don’t judge or overthink them or restrict yourself to any particular format. Write down whatever comes to you. Try out one or a combination of these journaling methods:
- Create a list. Jot down your big picture, high-level ideas for your podcast as a whole and for individual episodes. If you want to get more detailed, use an outline format with bullet points to elaborate on your main ideas.
- Write full sentences or paragraphs. Go more in-depth on a few concepts, or focus on just one by fleshing out any flickers of ideas or incomplete subjects. To get ideas about your podcast, use this time to journal about thoughts or feelings you’re experiencing or what’s going on in your life at the moment.
- Sketch out drawings. For those who are visual learners and thinkers, sketch out your ideas as designs. Think of this as a personal storyboard exercise for your podcast, or just draw anything that comes to mind during this designated time.
- Put on music if that helps. To assist with flow and motivation, play music while you’re journaling to help get in the creative headspace and mindset.
- Journal in different settings. Change your environment for even more creative unblocking. Sometimes getting outside, going to a coffee shop or library, or simply changing rooms can help get the creative juices flowing.
After 30 minutes, look at what you have. Circle or highlight anything that could be a seed for an episode, a guest, or an entire podcast concept.
Ask your audience/community
Crowdsourcing is a way to generate ideas and engage with your audience. Use crowdsourcing as a pre-launch research and development tactic. This method can also help generate new episode ideas for current podcasts.
Social media is a great place to survey your audience. Utilize Instagram Story features like Questions and Polls. Some questions you might ask on Instagram could be as simple as, “what should my podcast be about?” or “what’s a type of podcast you wish existed?” If you have a few initial ideas, ask your audience their preference in a Poll, and they can choose between the options. If your podcast is already underway and you need help planning episodes, ask your followers what they would like to hear next from you or an idea for a guest to have on an episode.
You can use this same concept with Anchor’s upcoming Q&A and Polls features, where you can ask these questions directly to your podcast listeners.
Reddit is another social media platform designed for discussions on different topic areas, called subreddits. Interact with the communities active in the subreddits related to podcasting or your intended topics to get inspiration.
Facebook Groups for podcasters, like Anchor's Facebook Community, is another resource for asking questions, viewing topics and discussions, and even sourcing guests.
Search insight tools like AnswerThePublic.com can illuminate what people online are curious about that’s related to a theme you’re considering for an entire podcast or separate episodes.
Use the stream of consciousness method as an entry point
If you’re stuck on how to write, communicate, or structure the content of your podcast, don’t let it hold you back. Start by emptying out any messy or half-baked ideas. This gives you a rough draft to work with.
This method can also be a remedy for overthinking because it allows you to just start. Once you have all your ideas down on paper or as a recording, you can focus on what has potential and what you can toss out. Once your initial recording, script, or outline is complete, go back and edit or start over completely using some of the nuggets from the original draft.
Don’t create and edit at the same time as that will interrupt the creative process. Release your stream of consciousness while actually going through the motions of producing an episode. Use this step-by-step guide to starting a podcast in an hour as an exercise that might lead to a finished product.
Listen to other podcasts
When battling creative block with podcasting, look to other podcasts for inspiration. Listen to podcasts about creativity to address creative block challenges. Listen to podcasts in your same category or wheelhouse for ideas you can make your own.
On the other hand, it could be useful to listen to podcasts outside your realm or category. Listening out of pleasure or curiosity could be what inspires you. Use Spotify’s custom recommendations or the category search feature to explore podcasts.
In addition to listening to podcast shows, get inspired by fellow creators. Anchor’s “How I Podcast” series features a variety of compelling creators sharing their processes and motivations.
For example, Monét X Change and Bob the Drag Queen of Sibling Rivalry are “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alums who made a podcast out of their friendship. “Between our schedules, it was nearly impossible to talk and catch up, so we decided to schedule and record it. We also just sit and talk for hours about the most ridiculous topics, and our friends find it hilarious, so why not let the entire world in on some of the fun.” Maybe there’s someone you have amazing conversations with that are worth sharing in a podcast.
A podcast concept or theme can also be born out of a broad mission, goal, or dream, like Reshma Saujani’s podcast, “Brave, Not Perfect.” She started her podcast “to spread the message of ‘brave, not perfect’ and give women and girls the tools they need to break free from the cult of perfection.” Take a cue from Saujani and think about what matters to you and what cause or message you'd like to share with the world.
Make music your muse
Music tells a story, just like podcasts do. How can music help tell your story? Find songs related to your podcast concept, interests, or subject matter and allow them to guide you. Or take an experimental approach and listen to music without a specific purpose in mind.
Whether your podcast is about music or you want to use music as a tool to support your narrative, Anchor’s Music + Talk format is a game-changer. With this feature, creators can build Spotify songs into any part of their episodes. This is an interactive way to focus on one song, artist, genre, album, lyrics, or any other connecting thread music can provide. The “Music + Talk: Unlocked” miniseries on Spotify delves into some unique examples of how to use the format.
According to a PLOS ONE survey, listening to happy music—specifically “classical music high on arousal and positive mood” used in the study—boosts creative thinking. Keep this in mind when you’re working through creative block. Listen to upbeat music while you’re working or taking a break. Some playlists to help create this vibe include Spotify’s Mood Booster and Songs to Sing in the Shower playlists.
Making your own playlists on Spotify could be the seed that plants an entire podcast, as it was for KITTEN’s “SHE/HER/THEY” show. She lets us in on how that came about in her “How I Podcast” feature.
“It all started with a playlist I actually made on Spotify. I knew so many LGTBQ+ women and gender-variant artists that were doing amazing stuff, and [I] felt like there should be a dedicated space for them to be highlighted or discovered. The playlist got such a great response and got me thinking, “I know so many of the artists on this playlist and I’m one myself…wouldn’t it be cool to record some conversations between us all highlighting our journeys with identity, life, and creativity? Maybe that’ll inspire some people.”
Don’t forget: Learn from your podcast insights
Podcast analytics reveal a lot of useful information about your audience, areas of strength, and opportunities for improvement. Exploring these details could spark ideas to jump-start creativity.
Anchor analytics allows you to dig into your audience demographics and gives you insight into the real individuals you’re speaking to. Not only can learning about your audience help form the kind of content you produce, but knowing you have that audience can be motivation in itself.
When you’re stuck in a creative rut, these techniques will show you the way to reclaim your inspiration. It’s out there—now go find it!