Most of the time, creativity is a hard fire to get started. Then there are the times when it’s like trying to light a wet match; when getting started or getting unstuck on a project is just next to impossible. You’ve sat down, you know what needs to get done, but your mind is just blank or filled with useless ideas. We’ve all been there.

Struggling to be inspired or having good ideas is just part of the creative professional’s job. In fact, one might argue that our greatest ideas come from moments when we’ve had to fight for them the hardest. After all, being a creative means that you’re committed to coming up with great, purposeful ideas whether you deal with graphics, illustrations, or photography, or art direction, or any creative field. That’s just part of the job of any self-respecting creative.

That’s why it’s doubly frustrating when we’re creatively blocked or when we get stuck on a project and we have no solutions that we’re happy with. Ironically, that’s when most of us need great ideas the most.

The following is just a collection of thoughts and suggestions that I’ve come up with in my own struggles with lighting my creative spark.

Start With ‘You’

What I realized as I struggled with my creative blocks is that they are usually caused by a lack of focus. Sometimes, I’ll get pulled in so many directions (professionally, socially, personally, etc.) and I’ll lose focus on every single aspect of my life. And I don’t think I have to tell anyone that when you spread yourself too thin, when forget to take care of yourself, everything else around you suffers.

Therefore, whenever I get stuck, I always start with me. What do I like? What makes me happy?

I allow myself to revisit the things that I like, personally. I shut out everything else even for just a few minutes.

For instance, I love movies. There’s something about movies that I just love as a creative. Movies have photography, narrative, and music, all rolled up in 90-120 minute visual odysseys of human expression. What more, can one ask for? Watching movies, or at the very least reading about movies, gets my imagination started.

The key is to find something you love enough that you start thinking about possibilities instead of impossibilities. With movies, I always think about telling my own stories or writing my own movie or shooting photos in the same style. It gets me thinking about possibilities about the stuff I like. Even if it’s unrelated to the project I’m working on, I have at least gotten myself out of a pattern of thinking about what I can’t do and instead it has gotten me thinking of the stuff I can do.

Now, I’m not going to write a movie in or shoot my own film in between my projects but just allowing myself to think about the possibilities of something else reminds me that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

When Things Get Tough, The Creative Gets Even More Creative

Sometimes, the best place to look for inspiration is a place you’d never think to look. Actually, sometimes it could be the place you’ve always avoided. It might be because you always thought it was too hard or that you might not succeed when you try it. However, now that you’re already at a creative low isn’t that the best time to try it? What have you got to lose?

For instance, I was always a little curious about screen printing graphic t-shirts but thought it was something that I couldn’t possibly do properly since I’ve never thought of myself as particularly “crafty.” That’s why I avoided it. Then one day, during a particularly stagnant point in my life, I decided to do some research on how to do it. I watched videos, read all the information I could find on screen printing, talked to some people with experience, researched local supply merchants and costs, and I just decided to start. At the very least, I’d end up with a working knowledge of how to screen-print and at the very most, I’d end up with my own t-shirt company.

Obviously, my first t-shirt wasn’t the greatest thing on earth. In fact, it was a disaster. However, doing all that research on a new medium, designing the graphic, and exerting myself in a creative manner did lead me to the conclusion that designing was something I wanted to do and something that I should appreciate. The fact that I get to do something creative at all was enough to get me inspired.

Don’t Push

I don’t know about you, but just like a mule, the more I push and pull on the reigns of my creativity, the more frustrating it becomes to get it going. You can’t trick yourself into getting motivated or inspired; it just happens. However, you can refocus your efforts on something else until you remember what it feels like to have new ideas again.

The more you push your creativity in a direction it doesn’t want to go the more failures you’ll face. It’s because creating something takes a little faith. You have to believe in what you’re working on in order for it be worthy of existing. If you don’t believe in your work, your clients or your audience won’t believe in it either. You can’t beat your work into submission. It is either good or it is bad. You’ll know either way.

Laugh

Make something funny. Read something funny. Do something silly. Just make an effort to stop taking things so seriously.

I won’t say anything about laughter and it’s relation to medicine because that’ just unoriginal. I will, however, say that being silly often helps me detach from all other distractions and it relieves me of the pressure I feel when I stare at a blank page or a blank canvas.

I’ve always thought that creative work was supposed to be fun or at least free from all the seriousness and direness often associated with other jobs like being a neurosurgeon or a professional arm wrestler. However, sometimes, with deadlines looming and pressure building, it’s easy for me to forget the fact that creative work is first and foremost about creativity. It’s about taking your ideas and daring to make something out of them and achieving results. If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll always second-guess yourself and that’s never good for getting things done. Besides, if you’re seriously creative, other people will take your work seriously and that’s what matters.

If All Else Fails…

Walk away. Just get up even for just a little bit and just forget about it. Do something completely unrelated. Gain a new perspective. The key is to experience something else besides creative frustration.

Personally, I try to go for a workout or a jog. Anything where I can exert myself in other ways that is not mental in nature is always a good choice. I don’t read, I don’t watch TV, I don’t doodle, or write. The thinking is, if I have a fight with my body, my mind doesn’t have to work so hard on my creative block. Usually, when I get back to the drawing board, I’m at least refreshed enough to give my projects another try even if I’m not necessarily “inspired.” At least I haven’t given up and I live to try another day.

What are some of the ways you get inspired? Share with us in the comments section.

Author:

Isaac is the Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Design Instruct. He has experience in various design and art related fields including design, illustration, and photography. He's in charge of making sure that Design Instruct publishes high quality content that professional designers and digital artists demand and expect. Get in touch via email and on Twitter as @designinstruct or @IAMTHEGUBE.