The other day I was talking to one of my friends, who is also a designer, about an art show we’re both preparing for. The main focus of the conversation was how hard it’s been to nail down our ideas for what we want to create! And as creative people, that’s a hard thing to accept. Afterall, creativity is our bread and butter! We both realized that it had been such a long time since we’ve sat down and allowed ourselves to have fun creating just for the heck of it—not for a client (even though we love our clients), not for a specific project or end product. Lightbulb moment: just because you work in a creative field doesn’t mean it always fosters creativity.
From my personal experience, creativity is something that needs to be nourished and carefully tended to reach and maintain it’s full potential. I think of my brain as a sponge that is full of creative juices. When I haven’t had the opportunity to really, truly use my creativity then the sponge gets wrung dry. As a creative, this is what can lead to burnout, a major creative block, and most definitely frustration. So how can you jumpstart your creativity when you feel like you're running low on creative juices? Here are my suggestions for the top ten practices to help overcome a creative block.
1 | Get Caffeinated
The extra boost of energy from a lovely cup of coffee (with cream and sugar, please) is sometimes just what I need to get in a “can-do” creative mood. If you work from home, taking it an extra step further by going to a coffeehouse can also be especially inspiring. The change of scenery can help cultivate more focus on the task at hand, and the energetic vibe from the hustle and bustle is an added bonus.
2 | Collaborate + Listen
My all-time favorite way of getting a creative and inspirational boost is talking and collaborating with other creatives. I swear, it’s magic (especially with some coffee added in the mix)! Talking to other creatives gives you a chance to share ideas and frustrations with someone who can weigh in with their personal experience. Also, if you’re stuck on an idea or if you’re not sure how good it is, other creatives are the perfect sounding board. They can help you build on your idea so it’s even better than you could’ve imagined, which can sometimes mean giving you the tough love and constructive criticism you really need (just be sure to listen to it!). When you’re talking to someone who is as familiar with your business/brand and your skills/strengths as you are, they’ll be able to encourage you and push you to reach your fullest potential. Business besties for the win.
3 | Step Away from the Screen
Some of the very best ideas I have are either when I’m on a walk or taking a shower. I think the common denominator that makes both of those situations ideal for idea creation is this: the actions are so automatic it allows your mind to wander freely. When we look for inspiration and ideas on our devices, I think it’s counterproductive. Yes, there are TONS of fantastic ideas on Pinterest, but I don’t think it helps inspire originality. The other downside to seeking inspiration online? It makes it way too easy to fall into the comparison trap. By looking for inspiration within your field, you’re opening yourself up to comparing your skill, style, and success to someone else’s. So go ahead and go on a walk, take a shower, wash your dishes, or something else that frees your mind to wander and build on your ideas.
4 | LOOK IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
Looking for inspiration online is the most expected place to look since it's such a huge storehouse of images, ideas, and creative projects. However, sometimes the best inspiration comes from unexpected places. Designing a logo, but you're stuck? Take a walk around a downtown area and look at the typography on old signs. Feeling uninspired with your photography work? Go to an art museum and observe the compositions, lighting, and angles famous painters used. Museums, libraries, old postcards, books about vintage fashion, children's book illustrations, movies, maps, architecture – the list could go on and on about where you can find wonderful inspiration. Don't settle for the easy route of doing a Pinterest search; go seek inspiration in unexpected places. I'm interested to see what you would find!
5 | Pencil to Paper
Anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile has probably picked up on how much I like to sketch out my ideas. I seriously sketch out everything. You might be thinking, “But, Gillian, I’m creative, not artistic. I can’t draw well, so how is sketching going to make this creative block better instead of worse?” Don’t be intimidated; sketching can really just be another word for doodling. Your doodles don’t have to be pretty, and they don't need to be seen by anyone but you. But I promise it’ll help you jumpstart your creativity, since doodling is just a visual way create and explore ideas. Also, it’s just fun and relaxing! Why do you think adult coloring books are all the rage right now?
Since I’m a very visual person, sketching is the first thing I do when I get really stuck. I can safely say it's my number one practice for overcoming creative blocks. Something about seeing an idea on paper helps me grasp a thread of thought and determine whether or not it has potential to be woven into a beautiful, bigger picture. Where conversations are a verbal way to build and expand on ideas, sketching is a visual way to build, expand, and finesse ideas. Need more convincing about the power of sketching? Here are three reason why you should keep a sketchbook.
6 | Have an Adventure
Taking a trip, even a short trip that’s close to home, is a great way to step back from your regular schedule and let your mind relax and restore your creative juices. Sometimes a change of scenery and the promise of a great adventure is just the ticket to shake you out of a creative funk. Adventures would also qualify as looking for inspiration in unexpected places. ;)
7 | Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
Challenging yourself by doing something outside your comfort zone can be a huge boost to your mindset. For example, If you’re an event planner who has always wanted to try your hand at calligraphy but you’re worried you won’t be good at it, step outside your comfort zone! By trying something new, particularly when it’s still within the realm of the creative field, you’re expanding your creativity and helping it flourish. Besides, you might just find something new that you love. Or perhaps, the new skill you learned ends up benefiting your business! Don’t be afraid to try something new and to challenge yourself.
8 | Hit Pause
I find that a lot of great ideas happen when I’ve taken a step back from a project I’m stuck on. When I’m spinning my wheels on something, it’s a better use of time to hit pause and come back to it later. Does this situation sound familiar? Go work on something else on your to-do list so your mind can take a break from the project that’s frustrating you. When you force pieces together that aren't meant to fit, you won't be happy with the results (and most likely neither will your clients). You’ll end up getting more frustrated, you’ll waste more time, and you’ll make your creativity suffer. Just take a break; I promise it'll be worth it.
9 | Pursue a Passion Project
As small business owners, we’re so focused on productivity and our to-do lists that we oftentimes don’t leave room in our schedules to pursue passion projects. By pursuing something that is just for us and purely for the joy of doing something we care deeply about or are curious to explore, we’re doing ourselves a world of good. It can be too easy to brush off an idea because it doesn’t have potential to bring in extra money or it doesn’t tie in with the “why” of our business. However, passion projects are a part of self-care, and as a busy business owner self-care should be a priority.
10 | Make It a Habit
A great Maya Angelou quote is, "You can't use creativity up. The more you use it, the more you have." It's when we're not truly using our creativity that we run into problems and hit a creative block. The best preventative is to use your creativity, every single day. Even something small is significant; it doesn't need to be a huge passion project. Working as a creative entrepreneur is very fulfilling because we get to use our gifts and talents. However, it's still important to break out of the routine we put ourselves in so we can continue to find joy in the work we do in the long run. So, my final encouragement to you is to find time each day to create something that you love. A little painting, hand lettering your favorite quote, photographing the beauty outside, doing a DIY project, decorating cupcakes, etc. These little things will add up, and the more you exercise your creativity then the more of it you'll have to use.
Well, friends, those are my top ten practices to help overcome a creative block. There are so many more ideas out there, though! What do you do when you hit a creative block or you're starting to feel burnt out on projects? I'd love to hear about it, so go ahead and leave a comment below!