It happens to the best of us. Every now and then, The Muse flips us the bird and goes on her merry way, showing no consideration for the fact that we were trying to start something. Or worse, that we were right in the middle of something.
So there you are, all alone with your weak, gasping project, and not an idea to be found. You need some creative mojo, stat.
- Leave the scene of the crime – If you feel like your inspiration has been stolen, don’t sit around waiting for it to find its way back to you. A change of scenery will do you good. Wherever you normally work, choose somewhere else. A park, a coffee shop, even your own yard can offer a subtle shift in energy that will get things moving.
- Branch Out – Talk to people. Don’t limit yourself to your friends and family members, either. Talking to strangers can inspire you in all sorts of new and unexpected ways. People of different ages and walks of life can offer you things that you can’t offer yourself.
- Steal inspiration – Seriously. You will, whether you mean to or not, so at least do it the right way. I’m certainly not suggesting that you plagiarize or make copycats of another person’s product. I’m just suggesting that you don’t reinvent the wheel. Nearly everyone that has ever created anything has had the horrifying experience of making something they thought was completely original, only to find out that it had already been done in some other (and possibly superior) incarnation. Keep files upon files of inspiration, and don’t limit yourself to things that are close to whatever it is you’re making. If you paint, a great quote might inspire your next masterpiece. Learn from those that know their craft well, and if you find ideas worth copying, make sure that you take it in such a unique and entirely different direction that even the creator of that thing wouldn’t realize you had “stolen” from them if they saw your work. This is stealing the right way.
- Switch mediums – Sometimes you have to break out of your bubble. Writers can benefit greatly from drawing or painting. A sculptor can reap huge rewards from journaling. If you’re just doing the exact same thing, day in and day out, not only will your creative spark fizzle out, you’ll get bored. What was once your passion will feel tedious and burdensome. These routine busters are called hobbies, and if you don’t have any, you should get some, stat.
- Timed brainstorm – When it comes to brainstorming, one of the best ways to make the most of your time is to give yourself less of it. Seriously. A one hour brainstorming session oftentimes yields fewer great ideas than fifteen minutes. Why? Because when we know that we have a longer stretch of time, there’s no pressure. When there’s no pressure to do something quickly, most of us will screw around, not getting serious about the matter at hand until zero hour. Some people try to avoid pressure at all costs, but it can be an incredibly useful tool. Nothing will make you move faster than turning up the heat.
- Take a hike – If not a hike, make it a swim, a ride, or a yoga class. Just move. Getting out of your head and into your body can clear away the detritus of too much thinking. When you’re doing, instead of thinking, you free up the space needed for new ideas to gestate. It’s better to turn the soil and allow new seeds to germinate than it is to keep watering a dead plant. As an added benefit, exercising releases adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins, all of which can help you break through the mopey mind funk that so often comes with feeling like you’ve hit a wall.
- Bring the noise – Silence can be golden, but when you’re working on something creative, background noise can actually help you focus. This is why so many writers choose to work in busy coffee shops. The key to using noise to your advantage is to choose something that doesn’t require your focus. NPR and audio books aren’t great choices, but public places, music, or a fan can be just the thing.
- Take a bath – Water can work miracles. Personally, I prefer the ocean, but since I don’t live by the ocean, the bathtub has to suffice. Depending upon the temperature, water can soothe or invigorate. It can wake you up or allow you to relax. When I’m writing a novel, roughly one fifth of all of my best breakthroughs happen in the tub. The characters have no respect for my privacy, and apparently have no modesty, because they routinely take a seat in the bathroom and tell me how it’s going to go while I bathe.
- Break it down – Sometimes feeling blocked comes from big picture thinking. Trying to move from zero to finished in a singular thought process can be overwhelming. If you know (or think you know) exactly how the finished project will be, write it down, and then work your way backwards from there. Once you’ve got a timeline of exactly what needs to happen to move the project from where you are today to finished, it’s time to begin. When you look at the timeline, don’t look at the whole thing. Just look at what you’re supposed to be doing now. Hyper-focus on that one thing, and when you’re done, cross it off and move on to the next thing.
- Organize the chaos – I know there will be naysayers, and I will concede that everyone’s brain works differently, but I believe there are major benefits to getting organized. The stereotypes about creative people being messy and disorganized allude to organization being the antithesis of creativity. I call bullshit. The two do not always go hand in hand. Disorganization can be an impediment to the creative process. You have to free up space, both literally and metaphorically, in order to have room for new things to come in. Sure, there might be a tendency for artists to be disorganized, but there’s also a tendency for artists to be starving. Being a hobbyist is one thing, but if you’re going to make a living with your art, you might want to consider getting your act together.
Yes, it sucks when it feels like The Muse has left the building, but the good news is that you’re not dependent upon any outside source for your creative mojo. Being an artist is a real, honest to god job. Despite all the hype to the contrary, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. In fact, sitting around waiting for the right time is a sure way to lose your creative force. Instead of playing the role of a passive bystander, helplessly waiting for it to return, get out there and look for it! Inspiration is everywhere, just waiting for you to notice.