How to beat a creative slump

When you earn your living through your creativity, it can be scary when it disappears on you — but there are always ways to get it back.

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That feeling of getting nothing from your creativity is unnerving. When it happens to me my brain feels strangely inert, like a muscle that’s too weak to lift anything any more. But like a muscle, if it’s proving hard to flex your creativity, it might just be out of fuel.

Ideas are everywhere. Your brain incessantly catches them, mixes them up, links them together and gets you excited about them. What I’ve found is that the creativity itself is never gone, it’s the creative process that’s stalled, stopping me from getting at the ideas I need in order to create. When my brain is coming up dry, I need to get it back into the right mindset.

And that takes a certain process:

Get rid of distractions

However much I write or teach about turning off emails and notifications while I work, I always find myself ignoring my own advice. But in a creative stall, distractions are especially dangerous. So that’s the first thing I do: Do Not Disturb the billy-o out of all of my devices.

Be in the place you create

As freelancers we can often work wherever we like. I have certain places where I do certain tasks: a coffee shop first thing in the morning is where I do my writing, admin is an early afternoon chore, but creating fits in late at night. Trying to force myself to be creative in the afternoon only leads to failure and frustration. So if I feel stalled, I make sure that I set aside that evening for work, I go and sit in my studio and tell myself that this time is dedicated to work.

A temptation to avoid is to think that it’s not worth starting the task because you’re not in a creative mood. You create the creative mood by starting to be creative — anything else is just procrastination.

Look for inspiration

To get my mind onto the right channel, I go looking for similar things to what I want to create. If I’m writing I’ll go onto Medium and read a story. If I’m doing web design I’ll go to CSS Nectar or Awwwards and have a browse. This helps get my brain into the right gear.

Play with some ideas

Creativity comes by doing, and it’s a freeform activity. Taking an idea, playing with it and seeing where it leads is a very helpful way to reboot the creative circuits. I let myself wander off the brief for a while, creating without any constraints and coaxing out my creativity. It’s vital to let yourself be you and to avoid shutting down your ideas before they’ve had a chance to play.

Your experience and talent will be what moulds your idea into the right shape for the project, but you need to give the idea space to be born first.

Rebel against the voices

Most creatives have nasty inner voices that sit there like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, jeering at new ideas and shouting ‘boo’ whenever we try to achieve something. It’s easy to go down the ‘I need to start again’ path if you listen to these voices.

But your negative voices are pretty fragile when you confront them. Have a playful rebellion against them. Carry on with your idea in spite of them. Because ideas don’t always come into your brain complete. Often they need mixing with others, extending and exploring. And you can’t do that if you give up on them. Those voices will quickly run out of ammunition if you give your ideas space to run, to take missteps and to find ways around them.