Ok, so you’ve done all the prep work needed to get the ball rolling, and you’ve gotten started… but then you reach a point where you just feel “stuck”. You show up every day to work on your project and nothing seems to bubble to the surface. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Here are some things that work for me when I need a little kick-start.
1. Get Out!
Psychologists, doctors, and your Grandma have all been telling us for years to go outside and play. It turns out, they’re on to something.
Being outdoors has benefits far beyond your physical health — it has fantastic effects on mental health and for some it fosters a deeper connection with spirituality. It’s ALSO great for your creativity.
On days when I’m working on a song or poem, I like to take a long walk outside. It’s better for me if it’s in a natural environment, but a walk in the city can work, too. The key is to make it a long walk (not just down the driveway to get the mail) so that my mind has time to work through the daily stuff it usually worries about. Once that crap is out of the way, my mind starts doing that magical thing that songs are made of: it starts wandering.
Observing the natural world may inspire a thought, which leads to another thought, which may lead to a bizarre connection I didn’t think of before. By the time I get back to work, I can’t wait to scribble down (or type up) all of those new thoughts.
2. Explore Unfamiliar Territory
Sometimes I like to get out, waaaay out, of writing altogether. I once stayed up all night playing with clay, and ended up with a pretty cute little sculpture – I have zero sculpting training or experience outside of this incident. If you’re feeling like you just can’t move forward on your current project, take a break and try out something new. Get some crayons or paint, learn to fold an origami swan, make up a silly song about your dog…anything goes.
It’s also easy to get into a rut when you aren’t exposing yourself to any new ways of doing things within your own medium. Occasionally, I’ve been surprised to discover that something I thought would become a non-fiction piece is actually headed toward poetry. Maybe you have a notebook full of short bursts of story that you can’t seem to get together into that novel you want to write. Could it be better suited to a comic book? Or perhaps a series of short stories?
Consider that there are other options and that, when you least expect it, the project can shape-shift on you.
3. Communing: Not Just for Hippies
Nothing makes me feel more full of sparks than having conversations with other creative people. My ideal afternoon is a long, leisurely lunch with some crazy, creative friends (and yeah, a little wine). When I leave a date like this, I want to run, not walk, back to my work.
Communing with other artists is actually what drives my “inspiration wall” on this site (and the one that will go back up soon in my home office. I collect quotes that I love and put them together in one spot in my workspace so that I can be encouraged by what other artists have done and lived through. Even the Greats have been stuck, they just didn’t let that stop them!
Chances are, you’ve got a few friends around you who are working on some pretty interesting projects of their own. Try to find a time to sit together, have fun, and talk about it. Discuss your passions and brainstorm together – you may be pleasantly surprised at what comes up!
(For those of you who don’t have a bunch of creative folks around, or live in a very rural area, Twitter and other blogs are incredible resources for building virtual community. I firmly believe every creative person should be on Twitter*, but especially those who don’t have ready access to an in-person creative group.)
4. Constrain Yourself
The idea of constraints can seem counter-productive to releasing a flow of creative energy, but it’s not. Think of it more as a method of harnessing energy and consciously directing it, rather than having it spread out all over the place with no cohesive pattern.
Writers have been working with constraints for a long time by using different forms and “rules”. When I have an idea, but I’m struggling with how to start, I like to try to write in a specific form, or assign myself a random “rule” to follow within a piece.
This is the reason I like writing prompts — not because the ideas in writing prompts are particularly good or original, but because the constraint of the “assignment” often generates ideas. Human brains love problem-solving, so giving them an equation to work with can be a great way to get going.
Here’s one I like to use: Write two columns of random nouns, then choose two seemingly unrelated words and write something that ties them together.
(Constraints work really well for writers, but can be great for other types of artists as well. If you’re a visual artist, try creating a piece in a monochrome or with a color you hardly ever use, or make a very tiny piece of art!)
5. Cultivate “Child Mind”
Children are naturally curious about other people and about the world, and they often learn by playing. I like to try to tap into that place and look at something as though I have never seen it or experienced it before. How would a child approach this topic? What is the first thing they would notice? How can I ‘play’ with this more?
If you try all of the methods above and still feel like you got nothin’, you still have my permission to take a nap. But seriously, you may just need to take some time away from your project. Go back to removing the blocks from your life and recharging, then come back after you feel rested and ready.
*while you’re at it, come find me on Twitter! I’d love to talk to you.