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Seven tips for escaping your creative rut

Colm Larkin

October 9, 2014

The lightbulb won't go ping. We’ve all been there. The place where a creative task seems so obstinately unsolvable that staring at your screen or a blank sheet of paper is no longer helping. When you find yourself stuck in that seemingly inescapable rut, try these seven tips for rediscovering your creative spark.

1. Go for a walk
Regular exercise is the surest way to keep your brain at its peak. While aerobic workouts like running and swimming are great for your long-term cognitive power, a recent Stanford study shows that walking boosts creative inspiration.

You don’t even need to ramble across lush green landscapes to feel the full effect. According to the research, people walking indoors on a treadmill showed the same creative problem solving ability as those who were outdoors. So the next time you’re stuck in a rut, get away from your desk and let your feet do the thinking.

2. Get clean
Woody Allen once said, “In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you’ve left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you.” Of course, the inspirational power of a shower remains scientifically unproven and 30 Rock boss Jack Donaghy’s explanation involving “the anterior superior temporal gyrus” is, like the character, entirely fictional.

But time spent standing still in flowing water is time without our ubiquitous electronic devices, so, aside from cleanliness, your daily shower also provides rare, distraction-free thinking time.

3. Devour popular culture
Award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis recommends finding inspiration in “the work of other artists, movies, books, magazines”. When faced with a creative block, go to a gallery, see a movie or pick up a book and see how other people have solved different creative problems.

It can also be useful to get away from the kind of work you do, so if you’re writing, check out visual work and if you’re designing, do something more literal. You never know where your next great idea will come from.

4. Start a morning ritual
According to Mason Curry, the majority of history’s greatest creators were morning people. For most of us mere mortals, mornings are a battle against snooze buttons, half-dressed children and grinding traffic, making that brain-fresh feeling decidedly stale. A good way to revive your imagination is to perform a short morning ritual before you start work.

Beethoven used to hand count 60 beans as he prepared his morning coffee. David Lynch does 20 minutes of transcendental meditation. Even just sitting at your desk thinking before you switch on your computer can help clear the detritus of the dawn rush and get your creative mojo flowing again.

5. Impose a restriction
Will Turnage of digital agency R/GA believes you can “enable creative thinking by embracing arbitrary constraints”. If you’re stuck on a problem, try removing a tool from your kit.

If you’re a designer, sketch everything by hand. If you’re a filmmaker, remove all dialogue from your scene. If you’re a writer, impose a word limit, like Dr. Seuss writing Green Eggs and Ham to prove that he could use only 50 different words in a book. Arbitrary restrictions can help you look at a problem differently and find solutions you may not have considered before.

6. Take the process out of creative process
It’s tempting to delay tackling a creative problem by turning to the more mundane, process elements of your job. But actress and writer Felicia Day likes starting her day with creative tasks as it “makes me feel that CREATING is my job, not answering emails”.

When it is time to share ideas, collect feedback and manage clients, ensure the tools you use make things simpler. Don’t deplete your valuable grey matter figuring out software even more complex than the creative problem you’ve just cracked.

7. Get back to work
All these ways of distracting your focus from the creative problem at hand in the hope that inspiration will strike are useful, but as painter Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Sometimes you simply have to sit at that intimidating blank canvas, sketchbook or laptop screen and do what you do best.

Hopefully these tips will help spark the little bit of inspiration you need to drive the 90% perspiration that all great ideas require.

We’d love to hear some of the ways that you get yourself out of a creative rut — feel free to tell us your story in the comments below.


  1. @sh

    4 years ago

    So I find the best ways to re boot the brain is to devour as much left field information as you can
    Then tune into news and current affairs
    Spend some time on your bike run or whatever floats your boat
    Relax then you’ll find you’ll make connections and ideas come together that will lead to new projects etc
    Sounds easy
    But it isn’t
    And you cant force it
    You just have to let it percolate till at last you get that eureka moment
    It’s worth the wait !
    Cheers @sh

  2. Ratna Amatsarie Tunarno

    4 years ago

    Most of these tricks are very true…
    All comes from within. No matter what you do to invite inspirations, they will never enter unless you open your heart.
    thanks for sharing these beautiful tips with us…

  3. colmlarkin

    4 years ago

    You just have to let it percolate till at last you get that eureka moment

    @sh – “percolate” is the perfect word. Ideas are like good coffee – both need time to brew.

  4. Robert Pizzo

    4 years ago

    If you can’t seem to get started by coming up with a good idea, put a bad idea down on paper. Then, ask yourself what’s wrong with it and how could it be better. What you’ve done is, you’ve started the process.

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