The s-word dreaded by creatives all over the globe.
And there is good reason for dreading it. You’re humming along, in a creative groove and then you come to a complete halt. Your mind is either blank or so cluttered with non-fun, creativity-sucking things that there is nowhere for a spark to catch. Man, I hate being stuck!
As we’re creeping towards Christmas and I’m already looking forward to taking a long break, I have to admit that I have been feeling a bit stuck creatively. I’ll sit at my easel and flip through books and ponder what I’ll paint next without putting brush to canvas. I’ll sit at my computer and distract myself with window shopping on Etsy or watching news bloopers on YouTube. (Some are a riot.) I’ll set aside focused time to work on a specific project only to find myself uninspired, sitting in front of a blank notebook and, well, stuck.
So, over the past couple of days, I’ve been focusing on things that get my creativity going. I’ve had to go through these motions many times through the years to knock out the cobwebs. One or a combination of a few of these always do the trick, so I thought I would share them here.
In no particular order…
read over old notes
If you are not a note-taker, you should become one! The great thing about taking notes, especially when you’re working on something exciting or when you feel inspired, is that you can use your own words, ideas, and random thoughts to dislodge whatever is impeding creativity in the present.
I was reading over notes from business meetings and my creative retreat last year and there were so many nuggets on those pages that got me writing more notes and ideas and I even took action on a few things immediately.
In addition to reading over old notes, it can often help to write new ones. Put the things that are clogging up your brain on a piece of paper. That can not only be therapeutic, but it can free up headspace.
get out into the real world
This is such a good way to get unstuck. Take a walk, go to some of your favorite stores, meet a friend for coffee, go exploring, sit at a mall and people-watch. I have found that when I get out of the house and away from my computer and creative spaces, ideas start flowing again! I have started carrying a small notebook with me because inspiration seems to strike when I’m out and about. I’ve learned I need to capture it right when it’s in my head or it flits away.
(Family hike in Whitewater State Park)
step outside of your box
Did you know that introducing your brain to new things results in a rush of dopamine? Well, it does! There are so many benefits to challenging your mind by continuing to learn. Try drawing, painting, learning an instrument, playing a new sport. It can be as simple as trying a new kind of word puzzle or going somewhere you’ve never been or going for a walk and listening to a podcast on a subject you know nothing about.
When I was feeling stuck yesterday, I sat down and did an abstract painting, which is totally not my thing! It was an assignment in an art class that I’m taking – A study of Berthe Morisot with Michelle Wooderson. I hated the painting and wiped it down immediately after I finished it, but it was a great exercise and it did help my mind to focus on creative tasks.
(Pencil & watercolor portrait from my Berthe Morisot class)
give yourself no-pressure creative time
This is a difficult one for me. I love productivity, so I have a hard time being idle or spending time on something that doesn’t seem valuable in the moment. I always want to create something I can put in my houses or share or sell or somehow put to good use. But, I have learned that this no-pressure creative time is valuable in a completely different way.
When I approach anything creative like writing or painting with the idea that it doesn’t have to be good or sellable or publishable, I can take more risks and widen my horizons. I often write blog posts that are never published and I draw and paint things that I never share and I’ll rearrange furniture and accessories in my house only to put it all back again. The value isn’t in the end result, but the simple discipline of carrying out a creative endeavor without any expectations.
Often times, those no-pressure sessions lead to very valuable ideas and discoveries.
(Sisley study I did in one of my no-pressure creative sessions)
get some encouragement
I love listening to podcasts for this reason, but encouragement can also be found from other entrepreneurs in a forum or in real life, a business coach, friends, family, books, webinars, conferences, a blog posts, etc. Creativity involves so much output that it’s important to balance that out with input. Get input from people who you respect and hold common core values, but also listen to creators and entrepreneurs who challenge you to look at a problem or process from a different point of view. Again, stepping out of your box can be beneficial.
HERE is a list of some of the podcasts and books I listened to/read during my creative retreat.
I would also add that if you’re stuck, it might be a sign that you’re simply tired. Maybe you need to walk away from a particular project for a while, get a good night sleep, or schedule a “mental health day”. I enjoy my work, so I can find myself doing it way too much, even when my creative brain is telling me it’s time to leave it alone and give it time to recharge. I’m constantly trying to find the perfect balance between work and rest.
Lastly, I think it’s important to know that if you’re stuck, you’re in good company. Any human who’s ever created anything gets stuck at one point or another and has some hurdles to jump over to get to the finish line. There is some amount of comfort in knowing it’s not just you. I suppose it could be argued that it’s a part of the creative process.
If anything, it gives us time to assess and it also helps us appreciate those times when the ideas are so abundant that it feels like you’re on a timed shopping spree and you have to grab as much as you can carry before time runs out.
What are some strategies you have used to get unstuck?