7 Tips for Finding Inspiration when you’ve hit a wall

Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days the lead will line the slippers, and you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that.
– Jamie Lidell – musician

Hi friends! I apologize for not being as consistent lately with posting. February-March is a busy time with my full-time job. We have a company-wide conference every March, and my team is in charge of all creative and printed material, which is a lot of fun, but it also gets a little crazy.

Getting 5+ projects a day is exhausting not only mentally, but it also depletes me creatively. I’m an introvert, so I know that when I feel exhausted and depleted, I need to look inward and put some time towards myself. Getting so many projects in a day also challenges me to come up with new ideas for each project. I am constantly staring at blank pages, requests, and deadlines, and what comes with that is exhaustion, creative block, and creative plateaus.

So today, I’m sharing some tips for finding inspiration when you have exhausted your creative well or have hit a mental wall.

All of these are things that I do, being an introvert. If you are an extrovert, I may not be speaking your exact language, but I will try by using tips not only from myself, but from highly creative and successful people.

1. Take a break.

It’s great to push and challenge yourself. There are many that would say, just work through the block. And there are definitely moments where that is what is absolutely needed. But we all have a limit and you need to find yours. When you’ve hit or gone beyond that limit, pushing yourself will get you nowhere and probably cause more damage than good.

Take a break. Distance yourself from the project, even if it’s just a short walk around the office, or chatting with a coworker, or running an errand. Anything that rests your mind from the task is good. When I have let my mind rest and think about other things, I come back to the project with a new perspective, or at least a better one. When you distance yourself from something that seems so dire in the moment, you start thinking about it more concretely.

“The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel ‘close’ – and the closeness can be physical, temporal or even emotional – get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations. While this habit can be helpful – it allows us to focus on the facts at hand – it also inhibits our imagination.”
– Jonah Lehrer – author, journalist, blogger and speaker

Stefan Sagmiester takes a year long sabbatical every seven years. His firm is completely shut down for that year. He takes that year to explore, rejuvenate, and come up with fresh ideas. He says that the ideas during the next seven years are always influenced by that one year sabbatical. He has a TEDTalk, where he talks about his experience.

2. Change your scenery.

This one is big for me. I am constantly changing up how my office is arranged or what coffee shop I work from. Putting myself in new and unfamiliar environments is refreshing. It releases my mind from the mundane and the habitual and allows it to explore new experiences, interactions and environments.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience.”
– Charlie Kaufman – screenwriter, producer, director and lyricist

This ties a lot into #1, but this is physically putting yourself into a new situation to break yourself from the ritual and allow yourself new experiences. Exploration is key to creativity! So try that new coffee shop you’ve had your eye on, go for a walk in the park, drive around a new part of the city, or just find new fun items to put on your desk.

3. Get outside.

We are not meant to act like robots and constantly turn out work without tiring. We need to be refilled and rejuvenated and getting outside to fresh air and sunlight does a world of good after being cooped up in an office.

“Changing my location literally helps me get out of the negative or unproductive space I sometimes find myself in. My most creative moments occur when I can immerse myself in the outdoors and get lost in it’s beauty.”
– Blake Whitman (From BreakThrough!) – VP of Creative Development at Vimeo, Partner at META

There is so much inspiration that comes from nature. I did an entire post on patterns in design, and many of those patterns that we know so well were inspired by something in nature.

4. Listen to a new type of music or a new podcast

Music is good for the soul. Music elicits emotions, memories and thoughts. It allows our minds to wander and allows us to create our own pictures and scenes in our mind.

“I’ll follow that up with music. Something instrumental….I’ve loved this type of music. It inspires me more than most. I sit and listen and allow my mind to be informed by a different art form. Most of my inspiration comes from things I don’t already know. This incredible music just feels like design for the ears. It never fails to paint a new picture in my head. Not having lyrics telling me what to think is refreshing.”
– Chaz Russo – graphic designer (From BreakThrough!)

5. Do some free writing or sketching

I am currently in the middle of reading Ken Robinson’s book: Finding Your Element. I saw him speak at a conference last year and was really inspired by his talk, that I bought his book. One of the things he talks about that really interested me was automatic writing. When I first began reading his book, I was starting to think how fun it would be to have a blog. I was motivated to start writing about things that interested me and others, and documenting all of our many projects we were planning, but the whole writing thing scared me to death! I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. This tool, automatic writing, opened up an avenue for me and now I use this tool to my advantage in times of stress or exhaustion. 

The aim of automatic writing is to explore your thoughts and feelings in a spontaneous, unplanned and uncensored way without consciously controlling what you’re writing. Rather than setting out to present an organized point of view, you simply start writing what comes first and move in any direction you like through a process of free association. You don’t pause to correct or judge what you’re writing or to plan what you might write next.

-Ken Robinson – Finding Your Passion

Automatic writing is the process of spontaneous, uninterrupted personal expression. This has helped me clear my thoughts of what might be clouding my process and get new ideas out that I might be holding back because of fear. This is a great tool, especially if you’re having writers block.

6. Save things that inspire you

This is something that I was told back when I first started my design major at Oklahoma Christian. With every new project or idea we came up with, we were always advised to find inspiration for the project, so that we could go back to it when we were stuck or getting off track in our designs.

I would suggest saving inspiration that is in your field, but more so, find inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. If you are a designer, look at photographs, paintings, calligraphy, or printmaking. If you are a photographer, look at illustrations, listen to music, watch movies. Find inspiration in a variety of mediums.

I not only have an entire physical bin dedicated to printed pieces I’ve received, fabrics, wallpaper, and ribbons I’ve kept, and types of paper, but I also have an folder on my hard drive titled “inspiration” full of categories of things that inspire me.

They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.

-Aaron Koblin – digital media artist and entrepreneur

7. Simplify your Space

This is one thing that is a habit for me, because it is something that I have to have before sitting down to a project. I can not focus or think clearly when my space is a mess. I am constantly distracted if there are piles of stuff that don’t have a home. So every morning, I do a sweep of my office and desk. Starting the day with a clean slate is always refreshing to me.

“When I experience creative block, I do a few different things. Take long showers. Clean my surroundings. I cannot think clearly when there’s a mess around me. If these haven’t worked, I go for a bike ride.”
– Ji Lee – Communication Designers at Facebook (From Breakthrough!)

I hope that these tips will help you when you hit that wall or get mentally exhausted and feel like you can’t come up with ideas or work that you’ll be proud of. That happens to all of us, even the most brilliant of minds. The faster we can pin point where our limits are and what helps us fill our creative wells back up, the faster we can get on our feet and continue doing great work!

Once you start realizing what things help you personally get rejuvenated and inspired, the faster you can get over that wall! 

If you liked this post, need it for future reference, or know someone who is currently struggling with creative block, please share it on facebook. And if you have any tips or quirky habits that get you inspired, share them in the comments! I would love to add them to my arsenal!

Images and several quotes brought to you by Breakthrough! 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block & Spark Your Imagination.