I've had to learn to be okay with seeking inspiration. Especially when faced with a deadline.
Inspiration doesn't just float down from the sky, and it’s not an endless river. If my creativity tank runs dry on a creative project, my first instinct is to take a break. That’s basically how procrastination works.
But deadlines don't allow for breaks. Or do they?
I'm going to show you some tips to get inspiration even when you find yourself wasting hours staring at a blinking cursor or a blank piece of paper. It all centers around intentional breaks.
As the ultimate procrastinator, I know all about excuses, and I need to preface here by saying these five tips are not excuses to stop working. Instead, if you’re determined, these tips can knock procrastination right out of the park, helping you clear the blockage in your creative pipeline to let those dreams through.
1: Stop Daydreaming
I'm the biggest advocate for daydreaming you're ever going to meet, and I just recommended that you take a break from daydreaming.
I'm not talking about a death-grip resolution here. If the daydreams come naturally, I definitely don't shut them down. But when I stop pressuring myself, I can free up my mental power to receive ideas instead of produce them.
Sometimes your brain is tired and your lack of creative juices is just the symptom. Stop forcing your mind to daydream for a while. Daydreaming needs to be natural, but if you stare at a blank screen, or a clean piece of paper, or an endless row of black-and-white piano keys, all while mentally screaming, "Think!" your mind will shut down.
Sometimes your brain is tired and your lack of creative juices is just the symptom.
Your creative side is a wild animal. You can't scream, wave your arms, and make faces, expecting to tame it. You have to let it come of its own accord, making room for it to feel comfortable. And feed it carrots and strew some hay around …
I better not carry that analogy any farther.
I've found that I can't force myself to daydream. I can force myself to type, draw, play, sing … but I can't force a vision for something beautiful and spontaneous to just appear—not when I try too hard. My mind rebels when I abuse it and I'm left with nothing.
Okay, so if you stop daydreaming, how do you inspire yourself at will? Queue the next tip.
2. Check Your Idea File
Yes, you need an idea file. If you don't have a physical paper file stuffed with dog-eared, ink-smudged sheets and misspelled post-it notes, you at least need to use your note-taking app.
The key is to add your moments of brilliance to this file whenever they flit through your mind. The ideas themselves may be genius or not, but like artisan cheese, ideas taste better after aging for a while. I find when I visit my idea file again in a year, I'm amazed at my own innovative prowess … and bingo! I'm inspired to develop those ideas or springboard off of them into something else.
The key is to add your moments of brilliance to your idea file whenever they flit through your mind.
If you haven't been doing this and don’t have an idea file, please do not pressure yourself to play catch-up. Just remember that the next time inspiration comes when you're in the grocery aisle between the pickles and mayonnaise, you need to write it down. Those little idea gems will someday become inspiration-generators.
3. Watch a New Movie
Or an old favorite, for that matter. But new is better. Something that will expose you to new ideas. I've found that I can be in the driest creative wilderness in the world, but a single trip to the theater can suddenly turn me into a bubbling fountain of ideas. It's even better if the movie is particularly well-shot, packed with pretty imagery and picturesque landscapes. We're looking for new ideas, new thoughts, a window into a different world.
Hey, and movies are just a suggestion based on what works for me. I'm really just talking about a change of scenery. Road trips are also fantastic ways to cleanse the soul and just absorb some beauty for a while. Same thing goes for walks through wild woods in the early morning or strolls on bustling city sidewalks in the rain—whatever gives you fresh surroundings.
4. Switch Projects
Now, I’m not some kind of artistic genius who can master everything he picks up. But I'm able to truly enjoy many different genres of projects, which is really healthy for my creative juice-maker. So if I've been drawing for a period of time, and the inspiration begins waning, I’ll switch over to music for a few days or weeks, depending on how much time I need to change things up.
I usually like to keep multiple projects running in the background at once; at least three or four in different areas. I'm not saying this is for everybody, but if you need inspiration, you might want to try starting multiple projects and see how it goes. If you're a photographer but feeling uninspired, maybe you should try songwriting for a little while. You'll find that your creativity hasn't vanished—it's just tired of the repetition.
Your creativity hasn't vanished—it's just tired of the repetition.
So get some fresh ideas in front of your eyes and let your mind be the spectator instead of the creator. You'll find your energy levels are recharged by the time you get back to writing.
This is the best tip I can give you. There is a famous quote that says,
Good artists copy; great artists steal.
Its origins are sketchy, but it's still a great quote.
Here's what it means.
When you trace a drawing, you just copied. You had no say in the creative process; you simply copied exactly what someone else saw. But if you see a piece of art that takes your breath away and you take the same spirit, style, feel, and create your own artwork with that inspiration, you just stole. You took an emotion or idea and made your own art from it. You stole the inspiration, not the art.
Before you call your lawyer, I’m not talking about plagiarism! Plagiarism is a serious crime, defined as "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing it off as one's own.”
This is not what I'm talking about at all. Don't go write a book "coincidentally" similar to The Hunger Games and send it off to a publisher. But do feel free to play with those kinds of ideas for fun. Make them better, expand, contract, rework, mix them with other ideas. Springboard into your own world from there … just make it yours.
Speaking of The Hunger Games, that concept was stolen from a dozen other dystopian books and Roman history, according to the author, Suzanne Collins. If she had simply imitated Ender's Game or 1984, for example, you never would have heard about Katniss' saga. But Collins stole the dystopian ideas, the historical facts, and filtered them through her own eyes to create a brand-new masterpiece based off of very old ideas.
6. Listen to Music
If you’re stuck on your project and can’t follow any of the above tips, the perfect soundtrack can get you back into focus again. Find music that matches the mood you want to create, and go for it. Let the music make you feel like you’re in a movie. This is the scene where you, the main character, refuse to give up, brush yourself off, and go for your dreams against all the odds! You are able to lend a voice to this world that nobody else can or will.
So don’t feel guilty for seeking out inspiration, like I used to. If you need to sit in the branches of an oak tree to get psyched up for your next chapter, do it. It will be more productive than staring at yourself in the vague reflection of your laptop screen, contemplating relocation to Africa. It’s time to get rid of those fears and take the unconventional route that you already wanted to take anyway, and find that inspiration. You got this.