Five Things That Can Help Restore Creativity

Pursuant to my previous post, I thought I'd collect a few tried-and-true methods for climbing out of a creative slump, should you find yourself in one, whether it's because you just can't think of an idea you like, you've written yourself into a corner, or you just can't find the motivation to get started. It's for my own future reference as much as anything, but you might find it useful, as well. So here are a few things that can help recharge your depleted creative batteries (or, well, mine, anyway!)

1. A long, hot shower. This is all about creating a space where you're under no pressure to perform. Soap up, stare at the cracks in your grout, belt a Katy Perry song... and absolutely don't try to think about your work. Just try to be there, in the shower, where it's only you, some steam, and a relaxing jet of water. Let your mind wander where it will.

Your mind likes to solve problems, so it'll use this open space to make connections that might be invisible to your conscious self. And before you know it: Bam! Bolt out of the blue: You have an idea, and you're fired up to dry off and make it happen. Booyah.

2. Exercise. As with the hot shower, getting some exercise also works because you're creating a pressure-free space. But exercise does one better, and wrings out any excess energy that might keep your mind in unproductive turbo-drive. If you find yourself hamstrung with anxiety and unable to forge ahead because you can't think past the way your heart is pounding, or even if you have a lesser problem and you can't get past being upset that your work has a problem long enough to see how to fix it, then this is your solution.

Hit a treadmill, go for a long walk outside, lift some weights, take a swim; spend at least half an hour at it, and the more the better. At the end, you'll find yourself in a better, more serene starting point for getting to work.

3. Talk it out. I suspect this works for the same reasons as psychotherapy does. When we open our mouths to start trying to explain a problem to another human being, we have to find a way to frame the problem clearly, which can often make the solution suddenly crystal clear. Find a good friend and collaborator, meet them for coffee or on IM, and clearly explain what you're struggling with. Make sure your friend knows their job is just to listen, not solve the problem for you -- your answer will nearly always come from within anyhow.

If you can't find another person willing to hear you talk it out, find a nice stuffed animal or pet, sit it across the table from you, and explain to it out loud just what's wrong. More often than not, just finding the words to articulate what's in your brain is all it takes to crystalize an idea. You'll be moving forward in no time.

4. Poking the edges. If all of this physical and social stuff isn't doing it for you, there are some straightforward mental exercises to try, too. For cases of writer's block, plot tangles, or when you're having trouble coming up with an initial concept, it can be vastly helpful to set down with a notebook and map out the edges of your idea.

What this looks like will be highly individual; maybe it'll be a brainstorm of elements you could throw together to make a high-concept plot. Or if you're stuck, it could be a scene that has no place in your final work, but that would help you explore character and build up a little inertia. Maybe it's a list of adjectives and associations you're trying to dance around, and seeing them all together will help you hone in on the heart of your concept. You don't always have to get right to the point; sometimes you have to go around the outside of the maze a few times before you find the path in.

5. Permission to suck. This is a mental adjustment. Open up your file, your notebook, your dictaphone, or whatever kind of tech you use to execute your creative work, and just do something, no matter how bad it is. This can be terribly painful, because of course we all want our work to be quality, right? But sometimes that just isn't happening in a first draft. I've very often found myself stuck because I know where I have to go next, but I'm afraid it's going to be too boring, too cheesy, too over-the-top, just plain not good enough. But I can't move on to anything else until that bad, bad idea has cleared the queue.

Once you have something down, no matter how awful it is, tweaking it into something great is a lesser hurdle. Nothing is as terrifying as that blank page. And honestly, sometimes, the stuff you write when you aren't feeling it, when you're just stabbing in the dark, is the stuff that bleeds gems and pony rainbows all over your work. Feeling in your groove is no predictor of quality, so there's absolutely zero point in waiting for your groove to get to work.

So! Five absolutely simple tools for dealing with writer's block, lack of inertia, mental fatigue, and all other manner of ills befalling the creative class. They very, very often work for me; maybe they can work for you, too!


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