There’s nothing quite as bad for a creative professional as getting stuck. It’s a vague term we use to refer to those times when we just can’t seem to generate good, workable ideas — or any ideas, for that matter — no matter how hard we try.
Before you give up, give these ten ideas a try. I can’t guarantee that they’ll work if you’re having a severe creative drought but in most cases, something here will knock the problem loose.
1. Spend time with creative people.
They say that we’re most like the people we spend time with the most. Don’t spend time with people you find dull and uninteresting, overly critical and judgmental, or who stress you out. Spend time with like-minded creatives who provoke you to think about things in new ways.
2. Just get started.
If you’re blocked up, in the majority of cases there’s no blockage to your creativity — just a blockage of your ability to freely express it. Stop criticizing yourself and allow yourself to create anything until you feel creatively limber. Two pages of rubbish or a few horrible drawings can be thrown away immediately but you won’t be blocked anymore.
3. Expose yourself to new things.
Make a conscious effort to expose your brain to new things. If you usually listen to rock, listen to jazz. If you usually watch comedies, try a morbid drama. Instead of reading mysteries, read historical fiction. If you usually eat Italian, find an Asian restaurant you’ve never been to before.
4. Develop a ritual.
While developing a “ritual” sounds more spiritual than it really is, it’s simply about creating mental associations between a set of conditions and your creative output time. Over time, your subconscious gets the idea: coffee and a cigarette at that particular desk means it is time to write or design or what have you, and immediately gets into the right zone.
5. Never get protective of your work.
Be willing to delete whole designs or paragraphs and completely change direction at a moment’s notice. If you’re too attached, you’ll miss all the opportunities that could’ve taken your work to a new level.
6. Consume everything.
It’s said that there are no new ideas, and that all new creations are simply combinations of old ideas. On that basis, consume as much as you can: read, listen, watch, discuss. Never stop consuming more fodder and you’re more likely to have brilliant, inspirational spontaneous idea combustion.
7. Shut everything out.
Maybe you’ve got too much floating around in your head and you need to process it. Stop consuming new information. Stop thinking. Meditate, sleep, relax, kick a ball — whatever it is that you need to do to shut your brain off and let your subconscious take over.
8. Always have a way of recording your thoughts on you.
Whether it’s a notebook or a smartphone, a laptop or a voice recorder, if you’re in a creative profession you should never put yourself in a situation where you don’t have access to some method of recording your ideas. They could sneak up on you at any time.
9. Save the editing phase until you’ve got a lot to edit.
It’s pointless to judge your ideas when you have so few of them. Those ideas, once expressed, can be the catalyst for a torrent of ideas. Ever written down the few seemingly bad ideas floating around your brain only to have a hundred more, some of which are good, follow them? Get it all on paper now — edit out the crap later.
10. If it’s not working… stop.
If you keep trying to generate ideas using the same method that wasn’t working before, you can’t expect results. That’s Einstein’s textbook definition of stupidity. Stop sitting in front of a blank Photoshop document and scribble in a notepad. Or stop trying to generate ideas directly onto a page and take a walk to brainstorm in your head.
Sometimes it’s ridiculously easy to come up with ideas, as if there’s no end to our own creativity. But just as surely as there are creative moments, there are dry spells. Equipped with tactics for attacking those dry spells, and a notebook full of unused ideas generated during your creative spells, you should never run out of ideas again.