Finding Inspiration When You’re Stuck: 6 Ways to Tackle Any Project
We’ve all faced it before — the creative “block.” One day your head is filled with so many ideas you cannot write them all down, the next you are seemingly empty — and it feels like no amount of time pouring over your project can get you past it. But when you are faced with a deadline or on a time crunch, being able to create is a necessity. So how do you get past those moments? How do you finish the project you’re on, even when you don’t feel creative?
Mason Currey researched hundreds of artists in different fields for his book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”. “My goal with Daily Rituals was to show how a variety of brilliant and successful people struck a balance between working hard and stepping away from the work on a daily basis,” he says. “And I hope that readers will take away some creative strategies or habits to apply to their own lives.” Using these six strategies in your daily process will help you overcome the creative obstacles you may face.
1. Leave inspiration behind.
The painter Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” One of the greatest perpetrators of creative block is the idea that you must wait until inspiration strikes to create something worthwhile. Learning to leave that idea behind can help you push past moments of uncertainty and trepidation. “I think that’s one important lesson for anyone who aspires to do creative work,” Mason says. “You can’t wait until you’re in the mood for it — rather, you have to push projects forward through daily effort.”
2. Work daily.
A huge part of finishing projects is simply showing up to the task. The other part is working on the task even when you’re uninspired. Stephen King has mastered this and works every day of the year — even on his birthday and holidays — until he has written 2,000 words. This, inevitably, means some days he works longer than others — but every day, he works.
Many people do their creative work at the same time every day. Mason implemented this in his own life after all of his research. “I have paid more attention to what part of the day I tend to do my best work,” he says. “For me, it’s first thing in the morning, the earlier the better. Even though I don’t particularly like getting up early, I started forcing myself to rise at 5:30 a.m. and go straight to work, and it’s become a habit. I often get more done in those first couple of hours than I manage to accomplish the rest of the day.”
3. Take a walk.
Many of the artists in “Daily Rituals” took walks as part of their routines. Georgia O’Keefe began her day early in the morning with a solitary walk, while William Faulkner preferred to take a walk after lunch to break up his day. Immanuel Kant would spend his mornings working, then take a walk to visit his friend Joseph Green. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” and perhaps he was right.
A Stanford University study found that walking, even inside on a treadmill, actually boosts creativity both during the walk and shortly thereafter. It can be especially helpful for strengthening divergent thinking — the kind of thinking helpful for brainstorming and drumming up extra inspiration in difficult moments.
4. Be repetitive.
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami finds repetition to be one of the most important aspects of his creative life. When he’s writing, he gets up at 4:00 a.m. and works for five to six hours straight. “I keep to this routine every day without variation,” he said in 2004. “The repetition itself becomes the important thing — it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
“A lot of the writers and artists I researched said similar things about the utility of an unvarying routine and the power of repetition in their work lives,” Mason says.
Psychologist William James, speaking from experience, said, “The more details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” The more repetitive our life, the more we can focus our mind power on developing a creative rhythm that can improve our work and help us push through creative ruts.
5. Find a balance.
“I think the trickiest thing with creative work is finding a balance between pushing yourself but not pushing yourself too hard,” Mason says. “If you believe artists like Chuck Close, you should work every day regardless of whether you feel inspired or motivated. But at the same time, you don’t want your creative practice to turn into a joyless slog — clearly, working too hard or too long can become counterproductive. And yet you definitely have to put in the hours to see any results, and almost all successful creative enterprises have come out of years of apprenticeship and experimentation. So I think it’s up to everyone to figure out their own balance between working hard and also stepping away from the work to do things that are restorative and inspiring.”
Finding your balance between working hard and letting your creative self recharge can be difficult — especially when you love your work. But it’s a necessary part of creating your best work. Learning from the artists who do it successfully is a great way to discover your own needs as an artist.
6. Accept the struggle.
One of the best things to help push through periods of creative drought is to recognize that you are not alone. Even the most incredible, fruitful artists experience times of self-doubt and have struggled with their work.
“It’s worth keeping in mind that even the most famous or successful figures often struggled mightily with their work,” Currey says. The artist Louise Bourgeois wrote in her diary, “I work like a bee and feel like I accomplish little.” And Joyce Carol Oats said, “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.”
Accepting the struggle as part of the creative process can help you push through to the other side, instead of getting trapped in the struggle itself. Use tools like Photoshop Sketch or Illustrator Draw to constantly be putting ideas on digital paper, and wait for the right idea to pop off the page.
Whether you create for fun or for work, creativity comes with hard work and consistency above all. John Adams said, “I find, basically, that if I do things regularly, I don’t have writer’s block or come into terrible crises.”
Keeping these things in mind and exercising your creativity regularly will help you make your best work, even if you get stuck.