As a content marketer and writer, ideas can be my biggest enemy.
I am constantly writing, sometimes upwards of 5,000 words per day between my career, freelancing, and Medium. There are days where it feels like I could write for hours on end, with every word piecing together like an effortless puzzle. Then there are days when that drive just isn’t there.
Any writer, designer, marketer, or the artist will tell you that it’s incredibly deflating to be creatively stuck as we hopelessly wait for that spontaneous idea to plant a seed of inspiration. But this exact mindset is where a lot of creatives are misled.
While creativity sometimes feels like an ambiguous lightning strike, it’s more often the result of your process. As author Ryan Holiday wrote, “While creativity can seem like magic, like every magic trick there is a method behind it.”
Great creatives have developed their own tips, tricks, and toolkits to keep ideas flowing and inject life back into their work when it stagnates. Over the course of several years, I have tried a handful of them.
Here are a few of the strategies that work best for me when I need to reignite my creative spark.
1. Read Your Feed
As a young marketing professional, I learned very early on that the most successful people spend a large portion of their day learning and educating themselves.
Bill Gates reportedly reads 50 books per year.
Warren Buffet still says he spends 80% of his day reading.
Phil Knight had a personal library behind his formal office at the Nike headquarters — to enter, one had to remove their shoes and bow.
When you find yourself overworked and out of ideas, a healthy dose of unrelated brain stimulation might do the trick. I’ll look for trending articles on LinkedIn about marketing and branding or head to YouTube for an engaging podcast between thought leaders. Sometimes I pick up a book about a random topic like sustainable coffee alternatives or read a passage from a memoir by someone I admire.
A few minutes of learning goes a long way in resetting your expectations and bringing your mind into a centered state.
The key here is that you aren’t mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, but finding content that will help you grow. I find these moments of education connect seemingly disparate ideas while planting the seeds for creative expression down the line.
2. Put Writing On Hold
As Tim Ferris wrote, “Writer’s block is almost the equivalent of impotence; it’s the performance pressure you put on yourself.” Even the most creative minds in the world suffer from writer’s block. Plus, mental fatigue can hit you at any time. Maybe your headspace feels clouded on Monday at 9 AM as emails fill your inbox or 9 PM on Thursday when you’re trying to finish a project before the weekend.
And one of the worst things you can do in this state of stress is to push your mind past its limits by forcing creativity.
Instead of spinning your wheels trying to think of something, the best remedy is often a break. Even ten minutes in nature or a walk around the block will give you a fresh perspective.
One of the silver linings in working from home during quarantine is that I can do five minutes of yoga while writing a blog or walk to the roof for a breath of air. You can’t think about creativity as a non-renewable resource — it has an endless supply if you know how and when to invite it.
Remember, if your mental wellbeing is suffering, your work will almost certainly suffer too.
3. Keep An Idea Box
Have you ever had a “flash in the pan idea” while working out or grocery shopping, and then forgotten it by the time you get home?
I have and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Luckily, I came across Robert Greene’s “notecard system” last year and it inspired my own method for idea building. The concept is simple: If you have a good idea, interesting thought, find a cool quote, or think of a question, write it down on a 4×6 notecard.
Here are some examples of things I’ve written down:
- “Humans find passion magnetic”
- “Shoshin is the concept of a beginners mind. We need to embrace that we don’t know everything- we are not experts and can always continue to be better.”
- “I’ll always draw- it’s a matter of energy. I could never stop. It’s as much a part of me as eating. When I get an idea it has to come out- it’s like being sick, a bodily function.”- Gerald Scarfe
As you begin to grow your collection of notecards, I recommend developing some sort of filing system to keep everything organized. I have little colored tab dividers ordered alphabetically with sections for books, goals, quotes, etc. Every time I find anything relevant or interesting, I simply add it to a new notecard. Then, when I need an idea, I can go back through all of these little notes for inspiration.
There is not a single way to do this. Make the system your own and figure out what works best for you.
At the end of the day, everyone’s mind works a little bit differently. We have to remind ourselves that extraordinary thinkers and creators had to work hard to become iconic creatives.
Elon Musk didn’t build multiple billionaire dollar companies by sitting back and waiting for new ideas to cross his mind. He put endless hours into learning every week, studied cross-functionally rather than hyper-focusing on one set of topics, and applied his learning across various disciplines. This fundamental process helped him develop ideas that are changing the world — not random sparks of creativity.
So, instead of feeling down next time you hit a creative wall, try learning something new, putting your work aside and taking a productive break, or head to your idea box and select the card that will get you back on track.
These strategies work for me and I hope they work for you too. Just remember, creativity is not a lightning strike. No matter how much you want to believe in the randomness of inspiration, just know that the world’s top creatives have proven that there is a method to their brilliance.
Mind Cafe’s Reset Your Mind: A Free 10-Day Email Course
We’re offering a free gift to all of our new subscribers as a thank you for your continued support. When you sign up using this link, we’ll send you tips on how to boost mental clarity and focus every two days.
This article originally appeared on Medium.