Five ways to beat a creative slump

There’s nothing more exhilarating than the moment when creative inspiration first sparks – especially when there’s a deadline attached to that inspiration. For those of us whose careers are built on the expectation that our brains will continuously churn out witty, captivating, marketable ideas, the pressure to deliver is part of the deal. In fact, pressure is what motivates us to produce in the first place, to push boundaries, to grow.

When it’s good, it’s great. But even the sharpest creative minds can run into blocks, and there’s nothing more terrifying and stressful than twisting the trustworthy tap of your lifeblood—your inspiration–  to find that it’s suddenly dry. To put it bluntly, it sucks.

So how does one beat the creative lulls? Here are some creative block busters that have worked for me, that may come in handy the next time your cup runneth under:

Ditch the Desk

I once worked alongside a copywriter/art director duo at a major agency in LA who would often arrive at the office a few hours later than most employees, but always together, and puzzlingly, always with wet hair. They also created some killer ad campaigns once they got there.

Their secret? Surfstorming.

The two of them had a creative brainstorming ritual in which whenever they were pressed for big new ideas, they would set a meeting at the beach instead of the boardroom, and throw ideas back and forth between surfing sets. Getting out of the office and opting for physical activity allowed them to focus on the task at hand without interruption, and helped them get on the same wavelength (quite literally). When the surfing session was over, they would go directly to the office to jot down all of their thoughts and activate the inspirations of the morning.

Taking a cue from the surfstormers, when you hit a creative block, take it outside. It doesn’t matter where you go; the only requirements are that you get out of the “norm”. Walk to your favorite coffee shop, but take a different route. Find a park, or a bike path, or a midday yoga class. You may be surprised how much of a difference just getting out of your chair can make.

Jam It Out

If you were to throw a theme party, one of the most important elements to crafting the experience for your guests would be having the perfect soundtrack. The same principle works for setting the scene for creative inspiration. If you’re stuck on a concept for an ad campaign, fast-forward to imagining the emotion you wish to evoke in the end-user (the audience), and play some music that makes you feel that way. It may be a fragment of a lyric that inspires you, or a place that comes to mind when you hear a particular song, or just a feeling that you get from listening to the music that can lead you to finding new ways to package that emotion.

Word Up

We’ve all been there. We are struck by a brilliant idea right off the bat, and we run with it. We’re so sure it’s going to work, and six hours into working on it, we hit a dead end. Don’t crumple up your paper (or delete the document) just yet. There’s a reason why your idea got you excited originally, and you need to recapture that.

Start by writing down just one word that you associate with the product or idea you are working on. Or write down the original idea in one simple sentence. Then, surround that word or sentence with other words you associate with the subject of your assignment. Jot down physical descriptions, feelings, synonyms, antonyms, even actors or characters who you could picture being a spokesperson for your creation.

Look at it. Take it in. Then, review your original idea. There’s a good chance that what you really meant to express is somewhere in the verbal collage around it.

Seek A Second Opinion

Pitch your idea to someone new, someone who hasn’t been “drinking the Kool Aid” and can give you an honest reaction. Watch their face and body language as you speak, because there may be visceral reactions to concepts, particular words or imagery that you use. This is invaluable because it’s likely the same reaction your end audience will have. Then, give them a chance to provide feedback – did they understand it? Did they find it funny/relatable/touching, etc? (And does this reflect the emotion you were aiming for?) Finally, ask them what the main takeaway of your idea is, in their opinion. They may unlock an aspect of your concept that is exactly what you need to move forward.

Are You Sure You’re Not Just Procrastinating?

Procrastination: we’re all guilty of it at some point. But have you ever noticed that you’re more likely to procrastinate on the projects that are the most challenging and potentially groundbreaking? That’s because procrastination usually stems from the fear that the work we need to produce will not be good enough. The further out of our comfort zone, the greater our fear of failure… to the point of paralysis.

No one wants to produce inferior work. It can be scary to start a project without having all the bits and pieces perfectly sorted out in your head. So you hold it off. You run away from it, hoping that at the 11th hour, inspiration will strike.

That’s insane. Furthermore, that’s not a creative block; it’s a psychological one. If you’re stuck on a project before you’ve even begun, the solution is obvious: do something. Anything. Try one of the tips above to get you started – write down a word or two, chat with a friend, get out of your element, and don’t be afraid to explore what you fear may be bad ideas – every effort you put in is one step closer to a creative finish that will satisfy your greatest critic — you.  

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