Sometimes it feels like the stars are perfectly aligned for creativity, and inspiration gushes from your brain so quickly you can barely keep up with the flow of ideas. Other times you stare at that white piece of paper, that empty computer screen or that wall in front of you, and out comes……nothing. Or at least, nothing worth pursing. All of your good ideas have been done, used up, gone. You have nothing left. You might at well quit your creative pursuits and stay at home on the couch in your pajamas, eating cereal for the rest of your life.
Well, maybe not. Don’t give up just yet.
I’ve been incredibly grateful that for the last few months I’ve been experiencing a great creative spell. Ideas are popping into my head faster than I can bring them into fruition. I have notebook upon notebook filled with scribbles, lists, sketches, pictures torn out of magazines, etc. I feel like I’ll never catch up with them with the limited amount of time left over in my day after work, commuting, and taking care of the kids. So I diligently record each idea to the best of my ability so I don’t lose that “seed” idea, and return to it the first opportunity I get. It’s a very good place to be.
Now, before you think I’m being smug and obnoxious and you want to throw a book at my head, know that I struggle with dry spells ALL THE TIME. I think that creative people hold themselves to such a high standard, that when we get an idea that others might jump up and yell “Eureka!” we over-think it. Has anyone is the history of the world thought of anything even remotely similar? Well, then it’s no good. Back to the drawing board. We’re so critical of our own ideas that we paralyze ourselves with fear and anxiety over our own abilities.
Here’s what I do to kick-start myself when I feel devoid of inspiration:
Keep and refer back to a notebook/file of ideas
This one kind of seems like a no-brainer, and it’s on EVERY list ever about creativity, but that’s because it WORKS! I have a black notebook that I keep in my purse, and an organizational app called Evernote that’s synced between my phone and computer. Any time I get an idea, I go to the closest thing that’s available and write it down. Whether it’s a few key words, a line from a song, a rough sketch that only you’ll be able to decipher, or a clipping or picture from an article, you need to capture that spark of an idea and save it for later. It doesn’t matter what it is or even why you like it. You don’t need to justify it or flesh it out just yet. Just capture it. When your mind isn’t stressing out over trying to retain your current ideas, it relaxes you and frees you to come up with new ones
Figure out your most creative times/places
Again, this one seems obvious, but you need to know when and where your best ideas usually occur. Is it when you first roll out of bed? Have a notebook by your nightstand. Is it when you’re going for a run? Use the voice recorder on your phone to blurt them out as you go. I find that I’m constantly coming up with ideas during my commute to work. It makes sense…I’m alone, listening to music, and although I’m focused on driving, my mind is free to go where it pleases. I know that awesome ideas could pop up at anytime in that car, so I’ll either voice record them on my phone, or jot them down in my notebook at a stoplight. Great ideas come to me at work sometimes too, so I’ll click over to an empty file, jot them down, save it, and then go back to business.
Look at art in a style/media that’s not your specialty so you don’t compare yourself
Are you a jewelry designer? Look at watercolors. Are you a web designer? Look at sculptures. Are you a photographer? Look at illustrations. When you look at art in the same vein that you work in, it’s almost impossible not to compare yourself. When you’re stressed out about not being as good as X, Y or Z, it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas. Also, when you’re looking at work similar to yours, it can be very easy to subconsciously start copying, and then feeling like you don’t have any original ideas. Think about what you like in the works you’re looking at. Is it a color combination? A quality of light? A type style? Think about how you might use these elements in a fresh way.
Change up your music (go outside of the 3-4 bands you currently have on heavy rotation)
I love listening to music both when I’m creating, and when I’m driving. I find that sometimes I get stuck in a musical rut, where I really only want to listen to three or four bands. Sometimes when I put my ipod on “shuffle” instead and it brings up something I haven’t heard in forever, it sparks an idea. Maybe a certain song brings me back to a moment five years ago, and I suddenly remember where I was, the people I was with, the sights, the scenery and…..BAM! Sudden inspiration. Try it.
“Remix” an old work from the past
Hang onto your old work, whether it’s a digital copy or the original (I know it’s easier said than done, and the clutter in my house will attest to what happens when you actually DO hang onto everything). Go through your old work, and see if there’s anything you want to revisit. Maybe your skills have improved, or you learned a technique you think would suit it better. Maybe you look at it and think “If only I had done _____ instead.” Well….try it. Change your composition. Repaint it in oils instead of watercolors. Change the color palette.. Now is your chance to make it into what you wanted it to be all along.
Make something in a new style of medium that’s not your own
Like I said, nothing paralyzes creativity like comparison, whether it’s comparing yourself to others, or comparing your new works to past works. Try breaking out of your box and working outside your comfort zone. Do something that’s NOT your specialty. Shoot some photos. Play with Photoshop. Doodle. Sketch. It may not be a masterpiece in the end, but it might just relax you and get your creating juices flowing again. If nothing else, you might pick up a new trick or technique to add to your arsenal for next time.
Take a break and walk away
If you’ve tried everything you can think of and still feel frustrated and angry, sometimes the best thing you can do is momentarily give up. Whether it’s a ten minute coffee break or an afternoon outdoors, sometimes you just need to get away and give yourself some breathing room. Watch a movie, make dinner, go for a walk, just remove that pressure from yourself and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas surface on their own when your mind is preoccupied with another task.
Do you have any great tips for sparking ideas when you’re going through a creative drought? What are they?