The Situation: You’ve got no inspiration or ideas.
You sit down to write a blog post and find yourself staring at that blinking cursor.
You’re doing creative work, which you love, but you’re facing a deadline and nothing is coming.
You’ve finally got some time to create and now that you’re here you don’t have a clue what to do.
In these moments it’s so easy to turn in on ourselves, to let the Inner Critic take over with an authoritative, “See? I told you so. What you were thinking? You’re not creative at all! Creative people have tons of ideas, too many ideas even. And look at you. You’ve got nothing. You know what that means? You are nothing.”
The good news is your inner critic is wrong. (Even if your dialogue sounds quite different , I guarantee you s/he is wrong.) Having these blank moments is a normal part of the creative process. An uncomfortable part, sure. A frustrating part? You bet. But a part of the creative process none the less.
So, what do you do when you have no ideas?
First Check In: Is your well empty?
Often we hit this blank wall when we’re trying to dive in too quickly after something else that has taken up all of our resources. Did you just finish a major project? Is there something in your life that’s taxing you hardcore? Are you exhausted? If so, take a break!
Sometimes it is simply not the time for generation; it’s the time for restoration. We creatives tend to resist that because we want so badly to be in the doing, in the making, the in the joy of creating. Learning to love the fallow times too will enhance your life, your work and your energy. Catch your breath. Go to the movies. Take a class. Read a book. Let your creative well fill up again.
And yes, I haven’t forgotten about that deadline situation. Sometimes we simply must produce. 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 or offer up some key points? Can you bring it down to the simplest demands of the project and get it done? Do what you need to do to get to the other side and then find somewhere to write 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), work with a healthy creative rhythm, not against it.
Now, assuming you are rested and ready for the upswing, how do you generate ideas?
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 the overcharged energy. Just move that stuff and get it gone. You’ll be opening the space for something new and wonderful.
Plus here’s a secret about having no ideas: sometimes you actually have too many crammed in too tightly!
You might, in fact, have so many ideas clamouring for attention that their voices have melded into white noise. This happens to me all the time. When I get stuck writing a blog post, more often than not, I’m struggling because there are actually several blog posts all wanting to come out at once.
This Gordian creative knot can happen especially when it’s been a long time since we’ve given ourselves creative time. Ideas have percolated and because they haven’t been expressed, they’ve become stuck. Inspirations have arrived and been kept waiting at the door. Letting go of any attempt to focus or create product and giving yourself time to dump all and sundry out can help you see more clearly tidbits of the ideas that have been waiting for your attention. (PS Developing a regular creative practice is one of the eways you can guard against this particular form of stuck)
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. What are you experiencing right here in this moment? Are you a bit warm? Do you hear birds outside your window? Start with that. Is your inner critic screaming? Start with that. Every road takes you somewhere. Once you get started, your creative instincts will know where to go.
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 nothing for them. Nothing at all. I had a moment of panic. 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 just might show up.
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. No idea 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 quick creative chat with a friend or colleague can make all the difference. When you’ve found yourself for quite some time sitting alone generated nothing, give a friend a call and you may just find yourself sharing what you’ve been thinking about lately or taking a stand for something you find important and suddenly tumbling right out of your mouth are the seeds of your next creative project without any effort at all! (By the way, this happens to me all the time with the Behind the Scenes!)
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 it is , well, it’s kind of woo. I believe that the water pouring down over us helps us wash 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 creative practice.
Learning These Block-Obliterating Skills Matters
When these moments of frustrating blankness show up in your creative life, and they will, take it as a time to hone first your skill in discernment so that you can figure out whether now is time to keep working or to take a rest and then to practice these block-obliterating, idea-generating strategies and discover which ones serve you best.
Develop these skills so that your ideas can flow into your body of work. The world needs your gifts.