6 Ways to Get Your Creative Juices FlowingNone By Steve Calechman
We’ve all done it. We make solid headway with a project, whether it’s writing a speech, completing a report or creating a presentation or design, but just can’t seem to finish it. We wrestle over the words, images, or delivery. We make one change, then another, then some more, and, before long, we’ve lost the ability to tell if anything is good at all. “It takes real effort to go back to the drawing board and reconceptualize a project, and, as a result, we get stuck in the weeds,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work.
What’s needed is a little mental and emotional distance to help you regain your perspective. Then, you can view your work with fresh eyes and renewed focus. Here are six steps you can take to help you shift your thinking and move forward.
Change Your Scenery
Finding a fresh outlook can require making a physical change, such as taking a walk, going to the gym, or washing the dishes. David Lehman, Ph.D., author of One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir recommends taking a shower. Charles Baxter, Ph.D., professor of creative writing at the University of Minnesota and author of There’s Something I Want You to Do: Stories, suggests going for a car ride, preferably with boring scenery. Two things are in play: You’ve brought in new stimuli, which might spur a new thought, and your ability to fully work—no phone, no computer, occupied hands—is compromised, which gives your mind room to wander. “You start having ideas,” Baxter says. Keep a note pad or a voice recorder nearby to take down your thoughts should inspiration strike.
If you primarily work on screens, another option is to print out your work and take a short break from your computer. The work can look different on the printed page, which will make you view it differently. Jonathan Groff, a consulting producer for the TV show Mixed-ish says that he’s able to see length and can physically manipulate scripts. Physically crossing out words makes him feel like he’s fixing something. “There’s something tactile about it,” he says. “It’s different than scrolling through it.”
Take On a Persona
The editing process requires a certain ruthlessness. Baxter calls it “being bloody-minded,” and it involves seeing your mistakes, forgiving them, and then making the work better. He’ll put himself into the mind of someone who isn’t sympathetic to his work—“the enemy,” he calls it. It’s not an angry attitude, just a cold one, as if he’s challenging himself, with, “OK, buddy, let’s see if you can do it or if you’ve done it. You gotta convince me,” he says.
Create a Self-Imposed Limit
When you’re starting a new project, that blank page can be freeing—there are no rules because there’s no absolute right way to present your work. But that freedom can create overload—there are no rules, so you have endless possibilities on the best way to proceed. Sometimes, having no restrictions isn’t always best. Limits create needed discomfort and motivation. “The more constraints you have, the more creative you have to be to satisfy those constraints,” Markman says. By imposing some arbitrary rules, such as making yourself cut 250 words from a report or five minutes from a presentation, you can force yourself to consider what’s crucial and what should’t be missed, Lehman says. And thinking more critically about your work can help you get back on track.
Recruit New Eyes
Sometimes, the best way to gain perspective on your work is to seek an outside audience. Ask a colleague whose opinion you respect to look at your work. Since she or he isn’t emotionally invested, they can tell you what worked and what didn’t without bias. This doesn’t mean you have to incorporate all their suggestions and comments, but the feedback will make you reevaluate and could well lead you in a different direction. “An editor gets you out of settling,” says Markman. They can challenge you to question your choices and push you to do your best work. Plus, Lehman points out, you can learn some pointers from their suggestions to add to your skillset. “You can pick up their knack,” he says.
Kick Up Your Senses
Often, the best way to freshen up your work is to seek inspiration. If you’re giving a speech, it could be watching a YouTube clip of a great speech. Perhaps listening to a song could lift your mood or trigger a memory or a new way of thinking that can reignite your creativity. Baxter says all it takes for him is reading a couple of paragraphs from a writer that he likes. “I get amped up and jazzed,” he says, “and then I try to turn up the voltage.”
Get to Bed
Other times, we grow so attached to an idea that we try to shoehorn it in, even when we know it’s not the right fit. Taking a step back and momentarily putting the work away can help you clear your head. “Distance allows you to be a little less in love with what you’ve created,” Groff says. “You forget the vulnerability and can say, ‘That doesn’t work for me.’”
Studies show that sleeping on it is even better. Sleep has a way of making you detach from your previous ideas that aren’t quite working because it detaches you from your original train of thought, creating enough distance for you to be able to view your ideas more objectively. “You’re able to be less emotionally invested and can get more abstract,” Markman says.
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