Are you racing towards a nearing deadline, but find yourself suddenly out of creative juice? It can be difficult to perform under pressure, especially when your job is to come up with creative solutions. Stress can add to the difficulty, which means getting stuck in an endless loop of creative block and stress. It can feel impossible to get out of. Luckily for you, I already fought this monster a couple dozen times in my career. And now I will share my 5 tried and tested creative methods so you can slay that beast too!
1. Let go, go out, relax
This is by far the most important thing on this list. Ironically, it’s also the thing that feels most impossible and unproductive for a lot of people. We want to be ‘on’ all the time, and we spend a lot of effort trying to cram as much productivity into a single day as possible. While you can optimise productivity of a machine by continuously working it without any breaks, the human body and brain do not function like a machine. You need breaks, and you need a lot more of them than you realise. It’s no wonder people experience getting the best ideas while in the shower, or right before they go to bed. Creativity needs space and time to breathe. By always being on and never taking a break, you run the risk of extinguishing your creative flame. Rekindle your creativity by taking a break. Taking a break can mean going for a walk, staring our the window or mindfully enjoying your drink of choice. You can also opt for stepping away from your workstation (including your phone!) for a couple minutes.
2. Lower the bar
As a creative I’m sure you’ve experienced the ’empty page’ syndrome many times. It’s the feeling of overwhelm you get when you have have an empty page to fill lying before you. The bright new-ness of the thing seems to sap you of any inspiration you felt before. I often experience this with new sketchbooks, the type that I spend a pretty penny on because the quality is so nice, or the cover was too cute to pass up on. These sketchbooks will often stay empty. That’s when I realised I am putting too much pressure on myself by wanting to keep the thing pretty.
This syndrome also seems to kick in whenever I’m faced with a new start. When the possibilities are still endless, it feels as if nothing I could come up with will be good enough. I somehow perceive a white page to be perfect thing, something I could ruin with whatever I put on it. So the ideas I want to put on there have to be perfect in my mind. That mindset is killing my creativity!
The simple way to combat this and to revive your imagination in this situation is to lower the bar. And I don’t mean slack off or do a horrible job. I mean putting the bar back on a reasonable height. Letting go of expectations of perfectionism, and getting back into doing a good job. In sketchbooks I do this by ‘just starting’. Sometimes this means drawing an army of stick figures on the page, or testing out all my colored pencils. Anything to make my next ideas less daunting to put down. Once I got a few ideas in, it doesn’t feel that scary anymore. And this method works with everything I do. When I’m stuck on ideas for writing, I start writing. It can be about nothing, it can be about the weather. Anything to make words flow out of my brain and onto paper. It’s like opening the window in the morning to let out all the stale air and replace it with fresh oxygen.
Once I’ve started filling a page, be it digital or analog, I always feel more confident to just do the work I had set out to do. So start with something that isn’t meant to be seen. Draw something ugly first, write something silly. Throw some random patterns on the screen. When your page isn’t clean anymore, it’s easier to try things without the fear of ruining it.
3. Keep a pen and paper near you at all times
I don’t know about you, but I often get my best ideas at inconvenient times. In the shower, when I’m about to doze off or during an inspiring conversation with someone. It would be a pity to let these freebies go to waste. Our memory is often not as good as we give ourselves credit for. When I finally have time to work on any of these ideas they are often already gone. To avoid losing out on free inspiration, I always have something to keep notes in with me. This can be a sketchbook, but it can also be the phone in my pocket with a simple notes app. My bonus tip for you would be to organize the notes well. Find a note-taking tool that feels simple and natural to use. If you’re chaotic like me, set a reminder for yourself to check your notes every once in a while.
4. Use a new medium
Are you used to doing things a certain way? Do you always draw in Photoshop, or write with the same pen in the same notebook? When you get stuck, it might help to switch things up. I’m sure you’ve already heard that your brain often needs new input, and that taking a different route to school or work can be very healthy for it. The same is true for creativity. Trying out a new medium can rewire your brain and spark new ideas. For digital creatives this could mean going analog. You could buy a few paintbrushes or a new notebook and start working with the new limitations that those bring. Speaking of limitations, limited options often make us more creative. Setting some rules and limits for yourself forces your brain to come up with new solutions. Do this by giving yourself only 3 colors to work with, or forbid yourself from using certain words or phrases. You’ll be surprised to see what happens when you need to work around a limitation! Learning a new skills is even better. You could learn how to arrange flowers, or paint using a new kind of paint you’ve never tried before. You could take a local pottery course or start folding some origami. The possibilities are endless!
5. Fill your creative library
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’? It’s often used in mental health conversations. It means that when you don’t take care of yourself, your cup will be empty and your ability to take care of others will be diminished as well. Creativity works much in the same way. You need to fill your creative cup before you can pour from it. Some people will tell you that they need a spark, motivation or inspiration to start working on their creative project. But waiting around for those things almost never works. The good news is that you are able to produce these for yourself. Filling the creative library can mean different things to different people, but the principle is mostly the same for everyone. If you want to be able to draw birds, you can become inspired by learning more about them. You can watch documentaries or take a bird-watching walk with an inspiring guide. Talking to people who love birds can ignite that spark in you too. You don’t have to fill your cup with one thing though, inspiration comes from the most random places. So try to have as many inspirational experiences as possible. Take yourself on a creative date every once in a while. Places that are perfect for creative dates are museums, parks, coffee shops, theater, books and new cities. If you want to learn more about this so called ‘Artist Date’, I would recommend reading and working through ‘The Artist Way’ by Julia Cameron.
I hope these tips are helpful to you, good luck creating!