When you work in a creative field, your livelihood depends on your ability to constantly come up with fresh ideas. So what do you do when you are feeling creatively stuck in a rut, drained or just uninspired? From taking a creative field trip to knowing when to stop tinkering, here are 11 concrete tips to fill your creative well — and keep it filled.
Work less but smarter. The painter Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” And while just showing up certainly must be part of any creative professional’s routine, I don’t see any point in sitting at your desk for an hour or two if you’re not getting anything done. If you find you tend to waste a lot of time at your desk, perhaps you’re simply spending too long there! Cut down your work time incrementally, and when you are at your desk, force yourself to work efficiently.
Know when you work best and plan accordingly. On a related note, it is extremely helpful to know at what times of day your energy peaks — and when it slumps. If, for instance, your best time is early morning, use the first two hours of your day to work on your most challenging creative work. Save the more mindless tasks (like promoting your work on social networking sites and checking email) for later, when you need to do something less demanding.
Take a creative field trip. Some days you just need to get out of the office — and unless you have a pressing deadline, I say go for it. Going out into the world and experiencing something new can be just the thing to get your creative juices flowing again. Check out a new art exhibit, go on a walking architectural tour or take in an open-air concert. Even if what you do or see is not directly related to your field, it can spark a new creative connection, limbering up your creative muscle so it’s ready when you need it.
Meet up with a friend. Whether your friend works in a creative field or is simply someone you connect with and who understands you, make a date to go out for coffee, lunch or a walk. If you typically take breaks and eat lunch alone (a common occurrence for entrepreneurs), it can be refreshing and uplifting to spend that time socializing instead.
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Do something different. Shake up your routine. Take a different route to work, try writing with your nondominant hand, say the alphabet backward or listen to a radio station you’ve never tried before. Pick up a few books at random and read a page or two from each one. Doing things that feel unusual or even a little uncomfortable can be wonderful ways to wake up the brain.
Move your body. Have you been getting enough exercise? If not, consider carving time out in your day for it — even if you are very busy, it’s worth it. Getting your blood pumping will help you think more clearly, feel less stressed and focus more readily. Don’t like the gym? Even a 10-minute walk outdoors could be enough to refresh and invigorate you. And if you live close enough to your office or studio, consider giving your car time off a few days each week, and take your bike instead.
Mine your past. When you are in a creative rut, sometimes simply looking at your own past work and ideas is enough to spark something new. If you’ve been working as a creative professional for a number of years, you doubtless have plenty of old work, inspiration files etc. that you can go through. Look over your bookshelves, ideabooks and magazine files, too — coming back to something that once inspired you can make you see things in a whole new light.
Learn something new. Sometimes it helps to become a student again. Sign up for a continuing education course or an online class. Read a new book, or attend a conference, lecture or weekend workshop. Just make sure it’s something that sounds enticing to you — the point is to get inspired, invigorated and motivated, not to feel as if you’re simply adding more stuff you “have to do” to your schedule.
Pick a card, any card.We all have ideas; the problem is accessing them when you need them, right? I suggest keeping a small notebook or card file — a place where you can easily jot down ideas and snippets of inspiration, questions and things to look into or explore as they occur to you. Then when you are stuck, simply flip through your notebook or draw cards until something strikes a chord.
Make a bridge to the next day. Hemingway used to always stop writing for the day with a bit of story idea still in his mind — that way he knew he would have something to write about when he got to work the next morning. You can do something similar, no matter what your work is, by purposely leaving something unfinished at the end of each day. And before you completely finish one project, jot down a few initial ideas for your next, so you are always ready to go.
Know when to stop tinkering. When you are working on a creative project, there isn’t often a distinct point at which you know for sure you’re done; you have to make that call. Whether you are designing a room or creating a painting, photograph or graphic, there are times when it will seem you could tinker forever. Try to notice the point at which you move from adding new, concrete ideas to doing minor tinkering, and take that as your cue to step away. Get out of the studio. Go out to dinner, watch a movie, eat some chocolate, sleep. Refuse to look at it again until the next day, at least.
Originally published at medium.com