Whether it’s writer’s block, no ideas, a blank canvas, or a looming deadline, we all experience creative ruts in our lives. There are other ways to get the wheels turning besides taking a nap, hopelessly expecting inspiration to strike suddenly, or waiting around until a deadline is so close you have no choice but to make something happen. Here are 15 ways you can actively prime your creative juices to flow once again. Even if you’re not an artist, writer, photographer, musician, etc., see if these practices can help in your own daily life, or at work, or just to exercise your imagination.
15. Look for inspiration
Your initial desire to do art, writing, or another creative endeavor must have originated from somewhere. Most likely, this ignition was from observing someone else’s work. Return to those roots. Where did you get your inspiration from in the first place? What is it about their work that speaks to you? Look through books of your favorite illustrator’s work, watch documentaries about your favorite artists, listen to the music that inspired you to pick up an instrument. Websites like Pinterest are an ideal way to quickly access thousands of visually similar works of creativity. Absorb the pieces of art that you like and who and what inspired you to begin with.
14. Alternative sources of inspiration
If you feel like you’ve seen all your favorite works, try exploring a different medium. If you’re a painter, try listening to music for inspiration. If you’re a musician, watch a movie. If you’re a photographer, try your hand at sketching. Experimenting in an altogether unfamiliar medium can give you ideas previously unexplored in your “comfortable” medium. Maybe a song will make you imagine a scene for a new painting. Maybe a movie will inspire you to write a song that plays out in your head in images like a film. Maybe you’ll sketch an interesting perspective or composition to photograph. Even explore other mediums in your field, such as watercolor if you’re a die-hard oil pant fan, or black and white film if you exclusively shoot in color. Get out of your comfort zone to refresh!
13. Look at colors
If you find looking at hundreds of pictures, songs, or artworks too overwhelming or are worried about falling into a time sink of looking at pictures without getting ideas or anything done, try simplifying. Colors greatly influence human responses and feelings. Try looking at a single color without any words, images, or other distractions. What’s your favorite color? Why is it your favorite color? What do you feel when you look at it? What does it remind you of? If you don’t have a particular favorite color, or aren’t feeling anything, or just don’t know where to start, try looking at or surrounding yourself with green. This is the universal color of creativity.
12. Make something without judgement
Sometimes it is most daunting to even begin. To a creative person, a blank page is one of the most intimidating things in the world. This is where you just relax, and make (let) yourself create garbage. You heard right—make trash! Type a nonsense sentence or what you see around you. Get some practice paper and strike it with a big scribble or a wash of a background color. Allow yourself to experiment and take a hundred bad photos, write an out of tune song, fill a sketchbook with poorly done portraits. These are just for you to see only, for you to make anything and do so with no judgement whatsoever.
11. Don’t create
“Isn’t the point of this to get me to come up with creative new ideas?”, you may ask. Counterpoint: how often do you sit with a blank page in front of you, desperately searching your mind for creativity and ideas, and have a perfect idea come to you? I’d guess not too often. How often do you get a great idea in the shower, before falling asleep, tending the garden, cleaning up your room, while grocery shopping, or washing dishes? I would hazard very often! Doing hum-drum, repetitive tasks will clear your mind and allow part of it to wander while you attend to the task at hand. Just make sure you have a pencil and paper or your phone handy at all times so you can capture ideas for later! Often times, the solution to a problem or the answer to a question comes when our mind is free to wander.
10. Change your environment
A mind rut can reflect a physical rut: if your desk or workspace has been set up in the same place and the same way with the same surface and walls, it can fuel this mental rut. Try re-arranging your workspace, move your desk to another spot in the room if possible, refresh your wall art, even moving a computer monitor from one side of the desk to the other can shake things up. Another important factor is lighting. Swapping lamps or adding an overhead light can change your environment as well if you’re not able to move furniture around easily. If you’ve changed and refreshed your workspace as much as you can, try working in a different place, such as on your bed, in another room, in a coffee shop, at a friend’s house. Anything to get that environmental rut to not reflect your mental rut!
9. Go outside
If you want a real change of environment, nothing helps more than going outside. If you can work outside, it will provide yet another different environment instead of being stuck indoors at a desk or computer. Even if you aren’t able to work outdoors, just being in that environment, away from your workspace, is invigorating. Going on walks, getting away from your screens and letting your mind wander is a great way to reset the psyche and give your mind a break from thinking about the problem at hand. Getting out in nature for fresh air, observing different scenery for ideas, or working “en plein air” in nature’s workroom, are lovely ways to break creative blocks.
8. Read books and watch movies/shows
“So, you’re telling me to watch Netflix?” Essentially, yes. But also experience other forms of media. Movies, TV shows, web content, comics, graphic novels, blogs, magazines, papers, books, and more; all of these offer a look into other people’s lives. Broadening your views by experiencing this life through other people eyes, (even if they are fictional,) can give you new ideas and new perspectives. They say to become a writer, the first thing to do is read all you can. If you want to be a filmmaker, watch a lot of movies and shows. Train your creative mindset into working like a writer, filmmaker, etc.
7. Challenge yourself
Viral creative challenges are a great source for when you have no ideas about what to draw, paint, make. There are hundreds of ideas out there, such as “Inktober,” – create an artwork with ink every day in October; “NaNoWriMo,” – National Novel Writing Month, held in November, where participants aim to write an entire book in one month; # Marker Challenge – artists blindly pick a varying number of markers to create a single artwork; and many, many more! If you’re into the viral challenges, check out YouTube or Pinterest for lists of creative challenges, such as writing prompts, photography “assignments”, and inspirational suggestions to pursue. Of course, document and tag your journey with the challenges for others to see on social media!
6. True vacation
If you are in a situation where you can afford time off, treat yourself to an honest-to-goodness, true-blue vacation. Cut off any guilt of not creating and take a few days to enjoy yourself and do other activities, remorse -free! Some people may take vacations, but in the back of their minds they’re still working, fretting, feeling guilty, or not paying attention to the moment. Allow yourself a real break, physically and most importantly mentally. Just make sure you come back refreshed with the intent to tackle your project with focus and gusto.
5. Talk it out
A friend, co-worker, or family member is a great source of breaking creative blocks, and they don’t even have to necessarily do anything! Just vocalizing what’s stumping you or discussing partial ideas is immensely helpful. It’s like having a friend proofread a piece of writing or artwork you’ve looked at it dozens of times. So fresh eyes or ears can potentially spot solutions, concepts, or alternatives. If there’s absolutely no one you can talk to at the moment, try talking ideas over aloud with yourself. Putting abstract thought into concrete vocabulary can compartmentalize any issue.
All great creative types have copied from others for practice. Recreations of great artworks and covers of songs are common. There are many reasons to copy; inspiration, practice, and education. Copying from references is a universal practice for all types of artists. Choose an inspiring artwork, piece of music, etc., and learn how that artist achieved that look or sound. This will give you an immediate subject when you don’t otherwise have ideas, and you’ll hone your personal skills with your chosen medium as you learn the techniques of other creative people. Practice copying someone’s portrait until you understand how to handle drawing eyes, or cover a popular song to learn chords on the guitar. Imitation is not only flattery, but an amazing learning tool. (Never claim a copy someone else’s work as your own, and if you do post a cover or recreation, naturally give credit to the original artist!)
3. Try again
If you’re not comfortable with other people’s styles, why not copy your own? Find some old work that you made weeks, months, or years earlier and try your hand at recreating it. These are popular “draw it again” challenges, where you can see marked difference between your original artwork (etc.) and your most recent. If you’re unhappy with how something you just finished creating turned out, what’s to stop you for starting again, taking what you learned from mistakes, and making it exactly what you want? It’s also fun to take work from years and years ago and recreate it to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve improved. This is also a case where your idea/subject matter is already chosen.
2. Make lists
This may sound obvious, off-topic, or time-wasting, but organizing your thoughts that are whirling around in your head and putting them down on paper can help in more ways than one. It’s a way to keep track of any and all fleeting thoughts, no matter if they’re silly or not, still write them down. You never know when something random or strange will come in handy! It’s also a way to clear your mind from clutter, so you don’t worry about forgetting anything crucial. You can even turn listing into a creative outlet itself, with planners and methods like bullet journaling. Organize categories such as “to do,” “ideas,” “goals,” “deadlines,” “calendar,” and more. Find a way that works best for you to keep track of your schedule and ideas.
1. Clear distractions
This last one may also sound obvious, but in this day and age, there are distractions everywhere we look. Firstly, find a clean and clear workspace. Let friends, family, roommates, and co-workers know that you won’t be available for a certain time and that you need to not be disturbed during that set time. If you have frequent friends who text you or have get a notice every time you team scores, you can also put your phone on “do not disturb” mode or even leave it out of the room if necessary. If you’re distracted by sounds or music, ensure a quiet work environment. If you can’t work without music, let anyone relevant know you’ll be concentrating with headphones on. It also helps to have a playlist set for working so you’re not constantly changing the song or getting distracted by the lyrics. Move anything else distracting away or out of the room, such as food, drink, fidget spinners, pets, etc. As a last resort, if you’re working on the computer, set webpages “off limits” with site-blocking sites that will lock you out of say, Facebook, for a set time. Finally, lock into some laser focus and work hard with your newfound creativity!