It happens to all of us — we’re writing or designing and suddenly, we hit a block. We can’t think of a single thing to add, out of gas and out of ideas.
So what’s the solution to hitting a creative wall? How can we get back into the swing of things? We asked some industry experts for advice on how to get out of a creative rut. Here’s what they had to say.
“Keeping working. There is a famous book called The War of Art that preaches the craftsperson approach to creativity. The idea is that no matter the circumstance, spend a certain, predetermined amount of your day working of your creative endeavor.
Our best work is always more a curation of all of our work, so give yourself a bigger pool of content to select from. This mindset helped me move past lulls in my own creativity time and time again.”
– Jacob Smith, Founder, ProductViz
“Lots of our clients struggle with creative block when working on a book or trying to come up with their next topic. Often, it’s putting pressure on yourself to be creative on demand that causes blocks, because you wind up focused more on “gotta do this” than on engaging with the creative process.
To get over this, I recommend doing something counterintuitive: scheduling your creative time. By setting aside specific blocks of time to do certain types of creative work, you start training yourself to get into the creative mode and you’ll start finding yourself slipping into gear faster and more easily. You don’t have to worry about when you’re going to fit in writing time, or how you’re going to meet your deadline, because you’ve already booked out the time you need—by fretting less, you free your mind up to be more creative, faster.
If all else fails and you still feel blocked, take the start of that creative time block and doodle or freewrite. Just put stuff down on paper—ANYTHING AT ALL—and loosen up. Think of it as stretching for the creative muscles; if you’re not pressured to produce a specific thing and give yourself permission to just make a crappy drawing or completely nonsensical bit of writing, you might find that the ideas start flowing again.”
– Kate Sullivan, Content Director, TCK Publishing
Do Something Different
“When I’m hitting a wall in my marketing content creation process I have 3 ways to jump-start the creative process:
- Go for a walk outside to clear my head: Even just 15 minutes of walking and people watching can do wonders to free up your thinking
- Read a book: It’s easy to default to heading to the next browser tab when you’re having trouble focusing but this will compound the issue. Instead of spending 10 minutes reading the news or a marketing website, pick up a good book and give it your full attention. Sometimes entering another world through a book allows you to totally reset your thinking. I’m always amazed by how often an unrelated idea comes to me after I spend time reading about something that had nothing to do with my day job.
- Talk it out: Content creators often hesitate to share half baked idea but sometimes the best thing you can do is to explain to a friend or colleague what you’re working on. Maybe they will have an idea that pushes you over the hump or simply the act of explaining your concept to another person will open new avenues in your thinking.”
– John Liston, Manager of Strategy and Operations, All Set
“Get out of your office or usual design environment.
When I experience a design block I really need to just get out of my own way. For me, I go and participate in the activity/sport that my design is intended for. For example, if we are working on a new fly-fishing product at Trxstle, I go out and actually GO fly-fishing.
Sometimes there is only so much I can do in 3D space in a CAD model and I can get stuck. By going out and actually enjoying the activity, talking with other enthusiasts and “turning off” my engineering brain for a bit, I seem to experience some type of breakthrough or at least further development on the design. This can be a tough sell with some employers, but the results speak for themselves. I would encourage individuals and employers/managers alike to allow for this type of freedom for your creative teams. Even just a few hours away from the desk really can catapult a design days or weeks along and prevent static and costly designers block.”
– John Smigaj, Co-Founder, Trxstle
“When I get stuck creatively, my first step is to look for inspiration in completely different industries. Most people who design websites for plumbers pull from the same design cues: primary colors, pipes, water, trucks, ornate seals, garish calls to action, and plumbers facing the camera with big thumbs up, smiling maniacally.
After I finished my first dozen or so plumbing sites, I couldn’t handle it anymore and started pulling from absolutely anything I found interesting. I borrowed layouts and cues from Ableton Live, Uber, Mail Chimp, and even a bag of beef jerky. Almost overnight the work became a lot more fun, and I was much more satisfied by it.”
– Joe Goldstein, Operations Manager & Designer, Contractor Calls
“What has helped me with my mental health and creativity is playing the piano.
Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices so it gets my mental capacity going. Its like a mental full body workout. It has helped me with my mental sharpness and creativity.”
–Gene Caballero, Co-Founder, GreenPal
Give Yourself Room To Breathe
“White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” -Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George”
“In my experience, the quote would more likely be ‘Inertia.’
Getting past the blank page or canvas can be mostly an issue of getting started. For me, I’ve already learned that, when I write, I’ll throw away the first page. In general, it takes me that long to say what I want to say, rather than why I want to say it. By starting out KNOWING that I’m not expecting anything great at the start, it takes the pressure off, allows my creativity to start flowing, and then I can follow, rather than feel I have to control or direct, where the discussion goes.
Eliminating the pressure or responsibility or expectation has been the most useful tool for me. Just get started.”
– Lynne McNamee, President, Lone Armadillo Marketing Agency
Figure Out What You Need
“As the main creative in my businesses, I’m constantly producing new content. Over the years I’ve developed a great trick for coming up with new ideas. It’s a technique that I got from the book Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.
First, clearly define what it is that you are trying to create and what it needs to achieve. For example, “I need to design an infographic on the benefits of organic skin care. I want it to include charts, quotes , and industry seals.” I still don’t know how it’s going to LOOK, but I’m starting to make decisions about its objective requirements.
Second, spend about an hour or more just looking at inspiration and examples. Seeing examples of creative work instantly gets my own creative juices flowing.
Third, stop thinking about it. Seriously. Just let your brain do the work and synthesize all that you’ve learned. Take a nap, go for a walk, play a game, just do something else to take your conscious brain off of the subject.
Every single time I’ve done this (not an overstatement), I return from my mental break filled with creative energy for my project. Highly recommended!”
– Diane Elizabeth, Founder, SkincareOx