Creatively Stuck? Here are 7 Ways to Get Ideas Going and Energy Flowing

Last week, I shared some thoughts on what to do when you have too many ideas. I thought it only fair to also share what happens when the ideas won’t come at all. This is for the moments when you sit down to write and find yourself staring at the blank screen or page. This is for when you’re creating on a deadline and nothing is coming or when you’ve finally made time for art-making and you don’t have a clue what to do. Any time the ideas just won’t come, you can turn to these creative strategies.

The First Thing You Need to Do: Check In

Is your well empty? Often we hit this wall when we’re trying to dive in too quickly after doing something else that has used up all of our resources. Did you just finish a major project? Has life been taxing? We’ve been through a demanding 18-month period. Are you exhausted?

Sometimes it is not the time for generation; it’s time for restoration.

We creatives tend to resist this because we want so badly to be in the doing, in the making, in the joy of creating. Learning to love the fallow times will enhance your life, your work and your energy. Catch your breath. Watch a movie. Listen to music. Get outside. Read a book. Let your creative well fill up again.

What if you have a deadline? This is a good time to draw on your body of work and see how what you have already created can support you. Have you done some sketches that you could develop further? Have you written a piece that might work? Can you address the basic demands of the project and simply get it done? Do what you need to do to get to the other side and then find somewhere to post in big bold letters this reminder to yourself, Book downtime after every project!!” If you are in this creative game for the long haul (and I hope you are), learning to work in a healthy creative rhythm will make all the difference.

Now, assuming you are rested and ready, how do you get unstuck and get going?

7 Ways to Get Ideas Going and Creative Energy Flowing

1. Flush Your System

For 10-15 minutes write, paint, draw, dance, sing, sew. Just go. Let it be utter crap. Just get yourself moving. Pour out all the mess from your mind. Fling out all the stagnant energy. Expend all that overcharged electricity. Just move that stuff and get it gone. You’ll be opening space for something new and wonderful to emerge.

2. Pick a Thread and Follow It

Don’t look for the whole piece. Just look for a place to begin. When you look at your paints, what colour catches your eye? Start with that. Are you curious about a particular character? Follow where they lead. What are you experiencing in this moment? Start with that. Is your inner critic screaming? Use that. Every road takes you somewhere. Once you get started, your creative instincts will choose a direction.

3. Release the Pressure

I learned this when I was the movement director for a theatre production. One night at rehearsal the director unexpectedly called on me for some choreography.

“Jamie, why don’t you go ahead and work with the soldiers choreography now?”

“Uh… sure…”

I looked up at the three actors on stage, each looking at me with open, expectant faces.

I had a moment of panic. I had nothing for them. Nothing at all. I searched my mind, my heart, my body for something. Anything! I didn’t want to let everyone down and I certainly didn’t want to look like I couldn’t do the job but I had nothing.

I turned to the director and said, “Sorry, Jess, I’ve got nothing right now.”

“Okay, no problem.”

I turned around to go back to my seat and….

“Wait. I’ve got it.”

As soon as I braved taking the pressure off, the ideas came. Ideas just don’t seem to love being forced to do anything but give them a moment and they like to dance.

4. Try a Different Medium

At a loss for what to do in your art journal? Choose fabrics for a quilt. No ideas for your poetry? Sing. Not sure how to end your play? Make a collage. Can’t come up with a theme for your event? Take your camera on an outing. Creative mojo is cross-disciplinary. Before you know it, the ideas that showed up in one medium will inspire some fresh thoughts in the other.

5. Have a Creative Chat

For some of us, extroverts particularly, having a creative chat with a friend or colleague can make all the difference. If you’ve been spending far too much time sitting alone and generating nothing, call a friend and ask them if you can share some thoughts. You may just find the ideas tumbling out as you speak. There’s magic in articulation. Ideas come into focus as you let them be heard. So many of my best ideas have found their way into the world this way, including Devotion. The seeds of that ‘artist-in-residence’ program were planted as I shared some thoughts in this Behind the Scenes video.

6. Be Still

Sometimes the conversation we need to have is with ourselves. We need to get quiet enough to hear our own creative intuition. Give yourself 10 minutes to chair and stare. Don’t try to come up with ideas or move the project forward. Look out your window. Listen to the sounds around you. Breathe. Let your body and your mind relax. Then just listen. No pressure. No demands. Just listen. Promise yourself that you will explore at least one of the ideas that crosses your mind during this time.

7. Have a Shower.

It’s not an accident that so many people talk about having their best ideas in the shower. It may be the quiet. It may be the privacy. What I think is, well, it’s kind of woo. I believe that the water pouring over us washes away all that excess energy and worry, all the remains of the day, leaving us fresh and open and ready to receive the ideas and inspirations that are meant for us. Yes, I am saying that taking a shower is a magical creative practice.

When these moments of frustrating blankness show up in your creative life, first ask yourself: is it time to keep working or to take a rest and fill my well? When it is time to work, practice these block-obliterating, idea-releasing strategies and discover which ones serve you best. Develop these skills so that your ideas can flow easily and often into your body of work.

The world needs your gifts.

BONUS TIP: Sometimes the problem is that you actually have too many. They are just crammed in so tightly that you can’t discern one from the other or get them out. This happens to me all the time. When I get stuck writing a blog post or this newsletter, more often than not, I’m struggling because there are actually several pieces trying to come out at once. This Gordian creative knot happens especially when it’s been a long time since we’ve given ourselves creative time. Developing a regular creative practice is one of the ways you can guard against this particular form of stuck.

Too Many Ideas? Here’s How to Choose.

We creatives love ideas. We like them almost as much as art and stationary supplies! We collect them in journals and lists and voice memos to ourselves. We gather them like bundles of gorgeous spring blooms in our outstretched arms, our faces beaming as bright as the sun. Oh, the joy of an abundance of ideas!

And then we sit down to write a blog post or a book chapter… we get ready to compose a song or a poem… we get set for our next knitting project or dance piece, our e-course or business venture and we look at that whole slew of ideas and we are overwhelmed.

How do we pick from this pile of beauty and possibility?

What if we pick the blue and then we see that someone else had great success with the red?

What if we go right and all of our dreams are left?

What if we miss out or get it wrong or lose?

How do we choose?

First, know that whatever is meant for you is there for you down all roads. If you are a creative heart then every path that calls to you will lead you on a worthwhile creative adventure. Choose one to answer. Say yes and begin.

Second, understand that it is the very nature of ideas that there are too many – and thank goodness! Can you imagine the paltry pantry of a world filled with only enough ideas for one person to manage easily in one lifetime? What a blessing we are gifted with a world so rich that we could pluck a new idea out of the air every millisecond and there would still be millions, even billions, more.

So make peace with there being more than enough.

Weed out the “shoulds” and the “ought-tos”. Leave only choices that call to your heart.

Then choose.

Choose one and make a start. If it feels like you’re walking in shoes a size too small or a size too big, choose again, but if it feels like, “Yeah, this is good,” even if there’s a bit of a wobble in your step, keep walking. Make friends with this idea and see where it leads. Stop looking over your shoulder at all the ones you left behind. Imagine how that gorgeous idea holding your hand feels when you keep pining and looking elsewhere.

Trust yourself.

Trust that if you choose an idea that calls to your heart, there is no way to get it wrong.

Be fully present in this moment with this idea and all that is ready to be created between you.

Make your choice and dance.

When Words Won’t Cut It (or The Joy of Doodling)

As a creative, journaling is my go-to practice. Having something to write with and something to write on are the bare minimum absolute essential requirements in my creative toolkit. Writing is my outlet. It helps me process my feelings, navigate my life and imagine my way into new possibilities.

And sometimes writing is wholly inadequate.

There are days when whatever is within me doesn’t want to be wrangled into words. When there is nothing to ‘figure out’ or ‘understand’, when I know that I am full of emotion, deeply stressed or simply weathering a storm, when I know that (like my mom always said,) “This too shall pass,” I need to find another way.

That’s when I turn to doodling.

For example, doodling has saved me on transatlantic flights! I’ve made an effort to become a confident traveler but no matter what I do, I am still an anxious flyer, especially over water. My body goes into worry overdrive. It’s hard to stay in my seat and remember to breathe. I’ve discovered that all of that excess energy can find a home in doodles.

I’ve tried journaling at times like this but there’s too much electricity for cohesive thought and exploring the fear and the flying works me up instead of calming me down. In contrast, making marks soothes my jangled nerves. The simple repetition of shapes is a balm. It’s like giving the scared little monkey inside of me something to do and she loves it. It will keep her occupied for hours!

If you’ve been having a hard time lately, feeling stressed or overwhelmed, grab some paper and a mark-making tool of some kind and give it a try. It doesn’t matter whether you use a pen or a pencil or give markers, gel pens, coloured pencils, crayons or pastels a try. Anything goes.

Just make a mark. And then another. And another.

Notice what happens.

One of my favourite doodling activities is scanning the photos on my phone for shapes to play with. I made it all the way home from the Netherlands by repeatedly drawing shapes inspired by my travels. It allowed me to draw inspiration from a beautiful trip, reminded me of the gifts of the experience and soothed me and my inner monkey. Before I knew it, I was through to the other side, calm, safe and sound.

That’s when I pulled my journal out and started writing again.

(PS If you join the studio today, you’ll gain access to a series of mini creative workshops, including one on doodling!)

There is Room for You

Many years ago, I was a regular at a popular morning Nia* class. One day it was particularly busy and as we worked on some steps that moved us quickly from one side of the space to the other, people were playing small. There just wasn’t enough space for us all to exuberantly travel the length of the room.

Then our instructor said, “Take up space, people. There’s room for you!”

I just about stopped in my tracks. My eyes prickled with tears. There’s room for me? Even in this busy class? Even amidst all of these people? There’s room for me?

And there was. Yes, I had to pay attention to the flow of people around me. Yes, I had to make adjustments but what I discovered was there was more room than I had imagined possible prior to my teacher’s invitation.

How often is there more room than we imagine?

All resources have limits but how often are we missing out on the richness that lives between assumed versus actual limitations? How often are we playing small, holding back or contracting because we are afraid there isn’t room for us when, in fact, there is?

Maybe your friend loves that you listen but also wants to hear more about you; she’s just waiting for you to share. Maybe your loved ones would welcome the clarity of knowing what you need. Maybe it would actually be no big deal for you to take Sunday afternoon to paint. Maybe it’s more than reasonable that you have a turn, choose your favourite, go first.

What if there is room for you?

This week, look for the places where you might be living by limitations that don’t actually exist. Root out assumptions about what you are ‘allowed’ to have, be and do. If it so happens that along the way you find some places where there isn’t room for you, take note of that too. You deserve to be where you can breathe, live and grow.

For over a decade I have carried “There is room for you” as a touchstone in my heart. Today, I share it with you. May you discover all the spaces that are waiting for you.

Thank you to Martha Randall for this lesson I will never forget.
*Nia is a barefoot movement practice that combines dance, the martial arts and healing arts.

As the World Opens

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
Margaret Drabble

This change of season comes in the midst of growing change in our collective life. The world is starting to open up again. This is a welcome relief but also offers fresh challenges.

Who are we as we step out of our homes and into community again?

Who do we want to be?

I have been a part of so many conversations lately about the stress of this return. The situation is made even more difficult because we are faced with feelings we didn’t expect to have! We thought we’d be enthusiastically running towards hugs, coffee dates and freedom. It turns out we’re also feeling unsure, overwhelmed and sometimes unsafe. Many of us are also recognizing that we are being pulled back into a life that we’re not sure we want to return to.

We are tender beings emerging from a long time away.

As we re-enter the world, we won’t just be finding a new normal, we’ll be creating it. Now is the time to move forward with intention, to make fresh and meaningful decisions before things settle into place.

Imagine for a moment that you had moved completely out of your house for a time and then, along with all of your stuff, you moved back in. Your impulse might be to quickly get everything back in place and get on with life. After a disruption, our default is often to return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. But what is normal? Often it simply describes circumstances we have gotten used to.

What if instead of resetting back to the way it was, you took a breath and asked, “What do I want now?

Don’t simply slide back into familiar dreams and desires. In this moment, what are you longing for? Who are you now? It’s like intentionally bringing that furniture back in, one piece at a time, and deciding what to do with it. Will you put it back where it was, find it a new home or let it go? You don’t have to know all the answers. Simply start with what you do know. Take what’s important to you and place it at the centre.

In the current context, this may feel hard to do. We are all experiencing a collective undertow pulling us back to the way it was. There will always be things outside of our control but don’t let that convince you that everything is outside of your control.

You have a say in establishing the new normal.

The more we give ourselves permission to set our own pace, to say our own yeses and no’s, to trust our inner compass and to brave moving towards what is meaningful to us, the more we create a world where that is the norm. I witness this all the time in studio classes, how one person’s brave choice inspires someone else to be braver, how telling our truth inspires someone else to share theirs.

Let’s take that even further. Let’s be compassionate, encouraging and respectful as everyone establishes their own new normal. Let us honour one another’s path and pace. Let’s be a part of the world opening instead of adding to the undertow.

As you brave the return, what kind of life do you want to create? What kind of world?

We continue to live through a disruptive time. Let’s make choices that will nourish the ground we want to walk on in the future.

The Books on My Creative Living Bookshelf

Despite the fact that I love books, it has taken me years to get back into the habit of reading. I found myself so busy that I just never picked up a book and I missed it deeply.

The first step of the return was discovering the joy of audiobooks. Suddenly, I could read while I was folding laundry or out on an errand. That was a gamechanger. The evidence is in my Studio Yearbook. I could see all the titles I had read in a season. In three months of listening, I read more books than I had in three years! It felt so good.

Once I was back in the world of books, there was still something missing. I longed for a deep dive. I love listening but I also wanted to get out my journal and take notes. I wanted to grab my highlighter or pencil and (gasp!) underline and make notes in the margins. I wanted to follow the author’s thoughts to my own conclusions. I wanted to engage!

Here’s where I found a new level of weariness.

Though I longed for that deeper connection with the material, it was also exhausting. Sometimes I would make a start and get flooded with so many ideas, feelings and reactions that I would be overwhelmed. It was like plugging into something with a higher voltage than I was currently able to handle. My off switch would immediately flip.

What life am I living that I can’t read a book?

What life am I living that I can’t engage in reflection and thought?

I remembered some wisdom from my sister Shannon who is an avid reader. Citing her own experience of moving from YA novels to Shakespeare and Tolstoy, she reminded me that reading is a muscle and it strengthens with practice.

So now I am welcoming back not only reading but also engaged reading. If I read a single paragraph and am sent into a whole new world of thoughts, feelings and ideas, I close the book and follow that path. I give myself time to take in all the richness and let it become a part of me. It’s like learning to take the right-sized bites and then letting my system digest fully. I feel richer for giving myself and the author’s work this time and attention.

Of course this deep dive isn’t required at all times. It’s not a ‘better’ way of reading. It’s a way of reading that my creative spirit needed and now I include it in my days. Figuring all of this out has led me to being able to bring you a new episode of Creative Living Bookshelf. I hope you enjoy the return of the show as much as I have enjoyed my return to books!

Eliminating Creative Friction & Enhancing Creative Flow

As creatives, we feel the constant pull to create, the desire to pursue ideas and bring them to life. It’s what we’re made for! Unfortunately, this doesn’t always result in a free and easy flow of artistic energy. We constantly contend with friction that inhibits our creative expression.

Friction is anything, large or small, that disrupts or slows the flow of your artistic energy and it can happen at any point in the creative process.*

As an example, let’s think about what it takes for you to get creating. Do you know where you can work? Is that space available or do you have to negotiate with others or deal with clutter? How about supplies? Do you know what you need? Do you have everything? Can you find everything? Is it such a hassle to get everything ready you don’t even want to start?

These are just a few practical points of friction that occur before you even begin. (I get a bit stressed just thinking about them!) This is why we so often dream about, read about and pin photos of artist studios that are perfect in every way. We imagine an environment that doesn’t impede us, that supports us. That’s a wonderful aspiration to work towards and we want to be able to create right now, right where we are.

Looking at these examples, how might we reduce friction so it’s easier to get creating?

Can you claim a space as your art space? Even if it’s not used for art all the time, choosing a go-to creative space eliminates decision-making (and potentially negotiation) and thus, friction.

Clutter in the way? We creatives tend to have a lot of stuff. Instead of berating yourself about it, find a strategy for working with what is. Honestly, I’ve often just piled things on the floor while I worked and put everything back when I’m done. It’s not a long-term solution (unless it is) but it did allow me to get to work! Another helpful strategy is separating the act of clearing from the act of creating. This ensures you’re not tired out before you even begin. As an added benefit, you don’t start to associate creating with the hassle of tidying.

This last strategy can be also be applied to your supplies. I take inspiration from my grandmother who would set the table for breakfast before she went to bed. It was magical to wake up and see juice glasses and cereal bowls at the ready. How would it feel to get your space and supplies prepared in advance as a lovely gift to your future self? With everything good to go, you will be able to glide in and start creating. Any friction in the preparation has already been handled.

This week, take some time to actively assess where friction lives in your creative process. Then experiment with ways to lessen or eliminate that friction. Remember, this isn’t about needing the perfect environment or coming up with a perfect solution. It’s about finding ways to get to your work. Every little bit of friction you clear makes the path that much easier. With the persistence of water wearing away at rock, over time you will wear a smooth path for your artistic energy.

Your creativity matters. Help it flow.