Creative Block: 9 Tips to Continually Generate Ideas - Working in the Wild with Hub:868 Issue No. 12

Whether you’re a writer, designer, or any other creator, you know that sometimes the creativity just isn’t flowing. This can impact others beyond just those with creative jobs, many of us need to generate ideas - artistic or otherwise. A creative block can be difficult to deal with and sometimes downright terrifying when you’re staring at that deadline on the calendar. We’ve got some ideas on how to keep the inspiration coming and what to do when you don’t think you will ever come up with another good idea.

The Fear of a Deadline (this might be bad advice, but it works!)

For some of us, that looming deadline is exactly what we need to force ourselves to produce something. We know our fellow procrastinating friends are nodding their heads to this. If this is you, (you can probably check the perfectionist box as well, right?) something that can be surprisingly effective is making your own earlier deadlines for yourself. Put them on your calendar and make them look very real because it’s easy to excuse yourself knowing you actually have an additional week to work.



Get Fresh Air/Get Outdoors:

Getting outside can help because it reduces stress, creates a ‘time abundance’ mindset, improves memory, and even increases brain function.
Psychologists David Strayer, Ruth Ann Atchley, & Paul Atchley did a study on the impact of nature on creativity. The results showed that spending time outdoors led to improved Remote Associates Test (RAT) results. This test measures creative potential using word associations. Their study included 56 participants on a four-day hiking trip, where 24 participants took the RAT before they began the hiking trip and the other 32 participants took the RAT on the last day of the trip. Strayer and the Atchleys found that time spent in nature improved test scores by 50%. Spend some time in nature when you are stuck, or even every day and see what conceptions spring forth. If you are looking for a place to get outdoors, we've got a list of great hikes in South Jersey here.


Keep a Notebook:

Your notebook can have blank pages for doodling, lined pages for writing, or a dot grid for both! It doesn't matter what you use - even an envelope or file of loose papers will do, but keep something with you that you can add ideas to as they come up. Keep it on the nightstand for those weird dreams, take it on the train with you because commuting-time is thinking-time, and bring it along to your social events because you never know when someone will say just the right thing to connect the dots in your head. Where do you most often come up with your best thoughts? Bring your notebook! (An aside: you can send voice memos to yourself from your Apple watch while in the shower. . .we can't be the only ones doing our best thinking while getting clean, can we?)


Switch Tasks:

Do an undemanding task when you get stuck - giving your brain a chance to wander a bit while doing something necessary but mindless can help you generate new ideas and solutions when you return to your more difficult work. It could be another creative task, work task, or simply chores that need to be done. It may also be helpful to switch to a medium you aren’t currently using for the work - if you’re an artist, try writing or if you are a designer, switch to painting for a bit and see if new ideas arise.


Digital Detox:

While the internet is certainly brimming with ideas, it has, well, everything. You might find some inspiration, but you’re more likely to get distracted and scroll mindlessly, or deep-dive down a rabbit hole learning far more than necessary about an interesting topic that does not serve you at this moment. We've talked about how important it is to leave our work devices at work to maintain better work/life balance, but your personal device can also become an issue. Our phones and computers provide constant input, and that leaves little space in our minds for creative thought processes. Stay present, even in your blocked state, so you can move through it rather than just procrastinating.


Try a Different Perspective:

If you are creating visual art or designs on paper or a computer, literally turn it upside down or sideways. You can also ask a friend or colleague to look over your work and see what comes up for them. Looking at your work from another angle or with fresh eyes can help you spot the problems with what you have or what is missing, which can make the next step much easier to figure out.






Break it Down:

A big project can certainly feel overwhelming at first. If you don’t have any ideas on what the finished product will be, can you work on a part of it? Narrow down your possibilities wherever you can. Have you completed early design phases (if applicable)? Doing data collection, analysis, and finding constraints & opportunities before attempting to come up with the solution will make that solution much easier to find. If you are well prepared, the design nearly reveals itself. If you aren’t a designer, think about how you can break your own work down into manageable pieces or create a framework to guide you.

Consider your Mental Health:

If you are burnt-out, you aren’t going to be able to come up with creative ideas or even be productive with everyday tasks. We need to care for ourselves so that we can produce our best work. Creative blocks are a part of mental health and if we allow ourselves to sit with that discomfort of not knowing, we might find the ‘why’ of the block. Are you afraid to fail? Are you overwhelmed? It’s much easier to move past the block if we know what is causing it. One way that we can address the search for why we feel blocked is to journal or “brain dump” every morning before we start our day. This is a technique we learned from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and it has been invaluable. If you’ve tried all our pointers and are still struggling, we highly recommend her book. It’s also important to remind ourselves that failure is not our enemy. Don’t be so afraid of your ideas being bad that you never come up with any at all. Make a list of bad ideas, note why they are bad, and see where you can go from there.

Patrice Haban Getty Images

Mimic the Great Creatives:

Another trick is the “creativity nap” that both Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison used where they would sit in a chair with an object in their hand and drift off to sleep. Once they entered that first sleep state, they would drop the object creating a clatter and waking them up. Ideas erupt from this hypnagogia or “N1” sleep state. It's all lost when entering deeper sleep states so you need to find that sweet spot. We haven’t tried this one yet, but we are adding it to the list because we need more Dali-style creativity in our lives!


So, Creatives - what works for you? Have you tried any of these ideas? Have you tried a “creativity nap”? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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