You’ve flipped the calendar to 2012 and opened to a fresh blank page in your sketchbook. Now what?
Are you feeling like you’re in a creative rut? Everyone gets stuck now and then, but when your livelihood requires creative output it can be truly devastating to hit one of these mental roadblocks. I know from personal experience: I’ve spent over 10 years running my own design and consulting firm, and a few years back I hit a wall. I was feeling completely uninspired, so the work I was producing for my clients and myself suffered as a result. What did I do to fix this situation? I decided to spend a year making skulls!
The Skull-A-Day project was a great long-term solution that has been giving back to me every since. Obviously everyone can’t drop what they’re doing and embark on a year-long path to get their creativity flowing again. Luckily, inspiration isn’t about waiting for your muse to show up – it’s about stoking the creative fires already within you. If often takes just a bit of lateral motion to change your perspective. Suddenly the ideas are flowing again.
So how do you get started? It’s really about committing to taking an action — any action — rather than just thinking about it. But that’s easier said than done, so here are six big ideas from my new book, Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing, at Home, at Work & in Your Studio.
- Let Go of Preciousness. One of the biggest creative stumbling blocks is our need to get things right. Believe me, I’m a perfectionist myself, so I know how hard it is to let that go. The reality is that treating your creations as precious little things to protect keeps you from the world of possibilities the comes from trying new things out, making mistakes, and getting things wrong.
- Freedom Comes From Limitations. If someone were to give me an infinite amount of time and an unlimited budget to create something, I would be frozen. It’s only from narrowing down the options that creativity becomes possible, as you are forced to push against the walls that close you in.
- Get Out of Your Environment. No matter how inspiring your workspace, there’s only so much creative work that can be done within it. Of course, if you’re in a place that’s not so inspiring to begin with, the need to be elsewhere is even more urgent. Since most people spend the majority of their time inside, they’re missing out on the much wider world right outside their door.
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. At some point in your life, you’ve probably been told not to make a fool of yourself, but the fact is that it’s one of the most effective ways to get creative inspiration! Fear of rejection and fear of embarrassment: these are the recurring enemies of creativity.
- Get Things by Giving Them Away. It may sound counterintuitive, but you get a lot from giving things away. If I had kept my own project under wraps, rather than sharing it as I went along, I probably would have had a fraction of the positive experiences. The more I gave away, the more people gave back to me.
- Collaborate. There’s no substitute for the benefits you receive when working creatively with other people. Some of the best things that came out of my own project were the friendships that blossomed from incorporating other people into my work. You get results that are exponentially greater when you don’t work alone.
So now it’s time to put a few of these ideas into practice. Here’s a project that you can try out today.
Mealtimes are one of my favorite times for creative inspiration. Generally you’re away from your usual environment and you have pliable, interesting materials in front of you. This project was developed with a group of my fellow designers when we met up for lunch and wanted to do something other than chatting about our usual work woes.
How to do it:
1. Write out a list of emotions on slips of paper and put them in a small bag. Keep them in your pocket, purse, or backpack so you have them when the moment is right.
Suggestions: Silly, gregarious, maudlin, depressed, ecstatic, delighted, bemused, miffed, blissful, enraged, enraptured, expectant, surprised, quizzical, terrified, alarmed, despondent, resigned, bewildered, astounded, satisfied, unsatisfied, excited, curious, anxious…
2. After you eat, choose one of the emotions from the bag.
3. Using only leftover food and other items on the table, create a face that shows the randomly selected emotion.
4. Take a photo so you can share the results, since this will be a purely temporary creation.
Bonus: If you do this at a restaurant, consider leaving the face as a surprise for the server. If you’ve made a big mess in the process, definitely clean up as much as you can and leave a nice tip!
Option: Invite a group to do this project with you. It’s fun to see how different people work with similar materials. Keep the emotion secret and then take turns guessing what each face represents!
Alternative: Instead of emotions, write out a list of animals or objects and use them instead.
Be sure to share the results if you give this a try! And definitely stop by Make Something 365 to find a ton of inspiring projects, as well as advice on getting unstuck from other creative professionals.