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?”
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.