In today’s world, if you’re not at least a little bit creative, pretty soon a robot will be doing your job. But coming up with those artistic flourishes or inventive solutions isn’t all that easy. Sometimes that muse just won’t talk.
This isn’t an inspirational list meant to convince you that you’re unique and creative. I believe that you already are, no matter what you do–you don’t have to be writing a book or making a movie; even accountants are creative in their own ways. This article is for when you’re stuck in a creative bind and need some extra oomph to make your project work. So here are fifteen hacks to get those creative juices juicing again.
Get those endorphins flowing. Exercise is a stress reliever as well as a creative catalyst, and mindless repetition (you know, like running on a treadmill or lifting things) is a secret to letting your ponderous mind wander. In fact, NOT focusing on your creative problem is a way to help you work through it. It’ll also give you some perspective: wouldn’t you rather be working than stumbling your way along on a treadmill wishing you could eat a cheeseburger?
2. Get Mad.
You know all those things you really want to tell that awful client? You know those times when you just want to say “really guys, this is the truth that you don’t want to hear,” or write a searing email to your boss? Write them down. Let it out. Many of us have created mental blocks to saying exactly what we mean because, well, we don’t want people to think we’re psychopaths. Break those barriers and say exactly what you mean. It’ll feel good, and often you’ll discover (somewhere) a new way to approach your problem. Just by being honest.
Then destroy the evidence. Make sure not to actually send that email. In fact don’t even put an address in the ‘recipient’ line. Just be safe.
After all of that exercise and rage, you’re probably still sweating desperation. Right now you reek of it, right? Okay, maybe not, but the shower is an excellent place to drown out the world and relax your mind enough to let it wander. And a mind with wanderlust is the fertilizer for new ideas.
4. Sleep on it.
This is why you always did better on exams when you fell asleep on top of the book rather than cramming right before the test. Your mind requires sleep, and the sleep actually helps you organize your thoughts and shakes new things free. It provides you with a way to look at old problems in a new way.
5. Be Curious.
What project are you working on? Is it for a client, or about a certain subject? Do some research. Allow yourself to get lost in your topic and find something that’s interesting to you, even if it’s abstract. Be curious about it. The more intimately you connect with your subject, the more creative you will be when trying to work with it.
6. Listen to Music.
Listening to music—just listening to music—helps your mind relax. It’s also evocative of images and feelings. You know, those things you are trying to get in touch with in order to make your project more creative? Those. Ideas come from a complex mix of problems, emotions, and experiences. Let the music flow over you, and just go with it. Yeah, man. Groovy.
7. Copy Someone Else.
Okay, not exactly. But trying to emulate someone else’s excellent work is a way to push yourself creatively. Copy their concepts or their style or their technique or some other intangible thing, not their actual work. By trying to recreate something that you already adore you’re likely to improve upon it and change it to fit your personal biases and style.
8. Pick a Tone or Theme
Sometimes creativity gets bogged down in the details and the specifics. Don’t mistake the forest for the trees, here. Back up, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “Self, what is the overall theme, message, or tone?” By having a big picture to fall back on, you may find you’ve opened up new creative avenues.
9. Look at the Pretty Colors.
Sometimes just picking out colors that would work together can give you a whole new perspective on your creative project. Maybe you hadn’t seen things in this light before. Who knows? Try different color combinations or play around with the Adobe Kuler to see if you spark any new ideas. You can also check out some art or even just browse the web for things like DeviantArt. Try telling a story about an interesting photo you’ve seen. Don’t know the story? Make it up. That’s half the fun.
10. Look at different Fonts.
Seriously. Type in a sentence or the title of your project, and see what it looks like in new fonts. There are loads of free font websites and databases out there, and some of them even let you type in your own text. Try 1001 Free Fonts, Font Squirrel, or DaFont, to name a few. Stumbling around on them and randomly clicking helps you imagine your project as if it were in that font…and maybe you’ll just find something you hadn’t thought of before.
11. Clean Something.
Mindless tasks are excellent for idea generation, and organization is often soothing. Besides, you don’t want to clean while you’re in the throes of a creative epiphany, do you? Best get it done now.
12. Go for a Drive.
Driving around and listening to music (or listening to silence) is a great way to clear the mind. It’s also a bit hypnotic, and this hypnosis helps you wiggle creative problems around in your mind like a loose tooth you’re wiggling with your tongue. Eventually something’s going to break. Just don’t talk or text on the phone while driving. It’s distracting. To other drivers.
13. Spend Some Alone Time.
Whether you’re walking in the woods or standing on the roof of a skyscraper, alone time is creativity’s favorite place to grow. I’m sure there’s a psychological or neurological reason for this, but I don’t know what it is. I just know that other people and electronic gadgets are not only distracting, they actually cause anxiety. Turn your phone off. Kill the news channel. Mentally get away from it all. It’s actually pretty well accepted that people who spend more time by themselves thinking tend to be more creative (and, actually, more mentally fit). I’m not talking about locking yourself in your mom’s basement for a year, but a ten-minute walk to relax shouldn’t be a huge imposition.
14. Teach Someone What You’re Doing.
I don’t mean step-by-step, but the process of articulating your creative problem to another person is incredibly helpful when searching for new approaches to an old problem. This is particularly helpful if you’re trying to explain things to a child (or a dumb friend), because you’re forced to come up with a much more accessible way to articulate your idea.
Believe it or not, even complaining about the problem helps you work it out. Just don’t complain too much.
15. Draw or Build Something.
Actually, doing anything repetitive that requires intense concentration would work. The trick here is to let your mind go numb. It’s actually related in some ways to self-hypnosis. It lets your mind wander. It allows you to start talking to yourself with your ‘mind voice.’ Just don’t answer the voice out loud.
Just start. The hardest part about doing something creative is getting over the fear you’ll waste time on something that won’t work. There’s a saying, “done is better than perfect,” and it’s good to keep in mind. Don’t be afraid to start on something with lots of kinks. You can revise later to work those kinks out, but it’s more important to get into the zone by starting than it is to fret over the details that may or may not work themselves out. Unless you’re a surgeon.
That’s it! I hope these little tips and tricks help you create something every day. Do you have any favorite things to help kickstart the old mental motor? Let me know in the comments!