One of the perks of being a professional writer is that I get to do what I love all day, every day. However, on the flip side, writing for other people all the time means that by the time I’m done working, I often have little creative energy left for my own writing. This leads to me ignoring my own projects for long periods of time. For instance, I wrote an essay that I love and know will turn into something great if I just take the time to revise it, but I’ve been putting it off for over a year because I’m too intimidated to dive into it. And even though I’m a poet by trade, I only write one or two poems a month nowadays.
Lately, I’ve been trying to rely less on feelings of motivation to get things done and more on the principle of discipline, but alas, my mind is an ornery 3-year-old, so I often have to trick it into being disciplined. I think this is a common problem among creative types and emerging adults (heaven help those of us who are both), so I thought I’d share some of my most effective tips for getting creative juices flowing again.
- Clean. Seriously, clean your house from top to bottom. This can help in a number of ways. First, having a clean living space cuts down on distractions and helps you focus. Second, cleaning is productive and sometimes helps jumpstart the Hey We Should Do Things discipline center in the brain. Third, cleaning doesn’t require much brain power, so you may come up with some creative ideas while you do it. And finally, cleaning is so boring that even the most intimidating creative task is often a welcome change of pace.
- Text everyone you know asking for encouragement. I’m not even exaggerating, send a text to anyone you feel comfortable texting about random life things, and just say something like “Hey friend, I’m trying to be more creative but also, I don’t wanna do things. Send cute pictures of birds.” Support is crucial when it comes to creativity. Which leads me to my next suggestion.
- Invite a friend to join you. A lot of the time, creating is a private process. I know I don’t enjoy working on my more adventurous essays or personal poems in public. But if you’re stuck in a rut, sometimes it’s worth it. The discomfort of creating in front of others is typically less burdensome than the discomfort of desperately wanting to create, and just…not. Having someone doing something creative in your vicinity might be just want you need to kickstart your own creative juices.
- Try a different medium. If you’re typically a visual artist, and you know you want to paint something but you just can’t seem to make yourself do it, try memorizing your favorite song at the moment and belting it out in your bathroom or garage, somewhere with great acoustics. If you’re a writer and have terrible writer’s block, try making a collage out of magazine clippings instead. All creativity is good creativity, even if you aren’t used to it or it isn’t your typical format. Plus, you might find that playing with a new medium removes whatever creative roadblock you were facing before.
- Re-organize your supplies. If your creative endeavor involves supplies, make sure they’re easy to find, easy to access, and easy to put back away. Subconsciously, you may be avoiding creating because you don’t want to search the whole house for your supplies, or because you know your supplies will be out for days after you make something because they’re hard to put away. One of the best ways to effectively stick to something new is to remove as many barriers as possible. You might be shocked at how much of a barrier your current organization really is.
- Absorb others’ creativity. Go to a museum, re-read your favorite book, listen to a podcast about creativity or art or music or whatever medium you love. Just find a way to take in the creativity of others. I know sometimes this makes my rut worse because I can’t help feeling like I’m so far behind these other people, but other times, it’s like the creative work of others opens the floodgates in my brain and I suddenly have 8 million different, amazing ideas. This is a bit of a gamble because it’s a game of Inspired or Intimidated, but I think it’s worth it most of the time.
- Set aside a specific time when you’ll try to do something creative. If you live with someone, let them know you’ll be unavailable to help with housework or do an activity together during this time, and if you live alone, text a friend about your plans to help keep you accountable. During this time, which shouldn’t be longer than an hour or two, tops, you are simply trying to create. If you end up scrolling through social media 80% of the time, but you actually got your supplies out, that’s fine! If you start making something but get overwhelmed and decide to trash it, that’s okay too! This is really more about setting aside a time for your creativity than about your productivity during that time. You’re just trying to carve out more space in your life for art.
- Start making something at an inconvenient time. 10 minutes before you have to leave for a dentist appointment. While you’re making dinner (just be careful not to burn down the house). Any time when you know you can’t be working long. In my experience, one of two things will happen: either you will avoid getting started at all and just scroll through your phone instead, or the time crunch will force you to set aside your inhibitions and finally just start. Fingers crossed it’s the second.
- Get a change of scenery. If it’s possible to change up where you typically do your creative work, do it. Even if that just means switching rooms in the house or setting up camp in your backyard, you might be shocked at what a difference it makes just to be in a different space. I love my office, but sometimes, the “office-y” nature of it can suffocate my more creative endeavors, so I go write at a coffee shop or the library, or if I’m feeling lazy, I just move to my kitchen table.
Some of these tips might work for you, and some of them might not. Developing discipline when it comes to creativity is counterintuitive and highly individual, so take your time and play around with what works for you. Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself, okay? Creativity is meant to be fun, and if you make it all about productivity or doing things the “right” way, all the fun will get sucked away.