Ever get excited about an idea, sit down to write it, type a few words and then… flatline? It’s literally like a gate closes and the idea becomes stupid, the few words completely mediocre / epically shite, and then you find yourself seeking comfort on Netflix / in food / both.
I don’t know about you, but my inspiration and motivation have been at an all time low this week. Not to make you feel bad, but just writing this was like trying to make a cat take a bath. (P.s. If you’re one of those people who bathes their cat, you are one cruel, stupid mofo).
Anyone else get really irritable when the creative juices aren’t flowing? Guiltyyyyyyy.
It’s understandable though. If being creative is the thing that makes you happiest, taking it away is just a one-way ticket to Gwumpy Town. As is calling it “gwumpy town” – eugh, patronising plebs.
So I should probably fix this before I end up single, friendless and alone. Here’s how to cope with and escape an inspiration and motivation drought.
First: Ask yourself if there’s a reason your inspiration has f’ed off
If you have a creative job, the inspiration tank might be low. Best to just quit like I did – kidding! I’m just jealous really. But if you think that’s the case, it might be time to take a holiday and refuel a little. (Yeah, sorry not sorry, the metaphors in this post are going to reflect the subject matter; I wasn’t lying.)
Or has your self-confidence taken a knock? This could be in an unrelated area of your life. I can be a real Sensitive Susan to criticism if it’s not worded constructively (i.e. “This is crap” vs “This is great but there’s room to improve here, here and here…”) even if it’s about something totally separate to my writing. Nothing zaps creativity like self-doubt.
Lack of direction is another one that has plagued me recently. Existential questions like, “what is all this for?” don’t really bother me until they’re applied to my work. Then suddenly I’m questioning the purpose of a tweet and freaking out because there’s so much to do and so much uncertainty and oh my god just so much everything. That’s where setting small achievable goals becomes my saviour.
Retrace your creative steps and try to pinpoint where your inspiration disappeared (again, sorry not sorry).
Second: Work out how to get it back (duh)
Method 1: Don’t Force It
If you’re creatively burnt out, there’s no point trying to squeeze any fresh ideas out. So it is your duty to yourself as a writer & artist to have some time off.
Take a day trip somewhere new, try a new gym class, throw a party, watch that Oscar-winning film you tell everyone you’ve seen, go to a museum, read a new book, visit neglected relatives. Do something you wouldn’t normally do, like see some weird theatre, or go completely out of your comfort zone – I’m not talking orgies and tornado-chasing (certainly not both at the same time), but something random / worth tweeting about, at least.
Abstinence from creativity, like abstinence from most things, just makes you want them more. Try not to even think about your work in progress or next project and see how much you’ll start to miss it. Wait til you’re bursting with ideas before you allow yourself to dive back in.
If your brain won’t work, at least keep your hands busy
If I feel like I need to be creative but nothing is happening on the writing front, I stick on a film and take out my watercolours. That way, my brain is distracted but not having to think too hard and I don’t feel guilty for watching a film, because I’m still creating something as I do it. If you don’t paint or draw, then find something else. For example, I have a friend who cross-stitches, one who knits, many who enjoy colouring books, and a couple who like to mess around on photoshop. Or why not calligraphy, sudoku, writing haikus… Find something to keep your hands busy while your brain has a rest.
Method 2: Force it
If you’ve had some time off and still aren’t feeling it, sometimes you just need to give yourself some tough love. Force yourself to keep writing even though you think it’s crap, pushing through the wall, and creating even though you don’t want to – this is the difference between failure and success. It’s what a lot of big writers say distinguishes between a professional and a hobbyist. A real writer or artist will find a way to work anywhere, anytime, no matter the circumstances.
Give yourself a forfeit. No Netflix / drinks at the pub / coffee etc. until the work is done. Tell your friends, partner and/or family so that there is external pressure to meet your goals too.
This is where a little achievement everyday will get you back to your inspiration. Instead of telling yourself you have to achieve something, work backwards to figure out the steps. For example, if you’re writing a script, your first goal is to write an outline in a week, the next week you have to write the character bios, the week after that you might dive into the script or you might do a scene by scene treatment.
WARNING: Achievable goals only work if they don’t come with exceptions. “Write 2,000 words by Friday (if there’s time)” is not a goal. “Finish portfolio website this weekend (after cleaning/gym/party)” is not a goal. You’re giving yourself excuses before you even begin and that will never work. Forget FOMO, decide which is your priority and make your goals absolutely non-negotiable.
Method 3: Go looking for it
Actively seek out inspiration and motivation.
- Find a writer or artist you admire and research their life story, including childhood, education and, of course, career. Don’t just focus on their achievements; pay particular attention to their mistakes and how they overcame them. What inspired them? What is inspiring about their work? Try writing or creating a piece in homage.
- History. Sometimes I like to just get lost in Wikipedia, following links from one topic to another until I’m reading about something I never even knew existed. Almost every time, I’ll come across an event or person who would make a great story. Or I go to a museum and read about random people to see if they could be my next character.
- Write fan fiction or create fan art. It’s often looked upon with derision, but fan art and fan fiction can be great ways to get your brain excited again. Pick your favourite book/film/comic/tv show and look up other fans’ interpretations online. Then start your own. Your knowledge of the world and established characters means you can just enjoy the fun of creating.
- Enter a competition. Some people need a deadline to work to. There are truckloads out there.
- Buddy up with a friend also struggling to motivate him/herself. Be each other’s coach.
- Tell everyone you know that you’re going to achieve […] by […] date and let the pressure/guilt drive you (personal fave).
Third: Sustaining Inspiration & Motivation
Now you’ve got your mojo back, keeping it going strong is the next battle. These are the things that help me the most.
Don’t roll your eyes at me – yes, this one is bloody obvious but if stereotypes are to be believed, writers are notorious hermits and fat, lazy nerds, and artists whimsical potheads. Not you? Prove it.
It isn’t always easy and sometimes I have to bribe myself with a fun reward (usually Netflix). But fact is, your body needs exercise and your brain won’t work to its full potential unless you give it some.
You don’t need to become a fitness freak, you just need to get off your ass for 30mins a day. It doesn’t have to be at a gym either, but I would insist on at least leaving the house. Go for a walk, do some yoga, swim… whatever you feel like! For me, a quick jog to my Ultimate Running Playlist (because I’m that asshole) is a great way to reset the brain and come back to my desk armed with some endorphins.
Making writing / creating part of your routine is vital if you want to take it seriously. You have to be very strict about it for a routine to stick, but once it does you wonder why you ever struggled. I find that if I keep to something for a month, giving it up actually becomes harder than keeping it going. After a month, it becomes a habit.
You probably know when you write or create best. For me, it’s first thing in the morning and in the evening, after dinner. Set aside an hour a day at this time and make yourself work whether you feel like it or not. This will seem really tough at first, but manage this for a few weeks and you’ll find it becomes as habitual as your morning coffee.
If you miss a day or fail in the first couple of weeks, do NOT allow yourself to give up. “Might as well stop now” is a shitty excuse. So is “This obviously doesn’t work” after just a few days. Try again.
If, like me, you need a visual aid to motivate you (or are a little OCD) buy a good calendar and put a big green tick on every day you achieve your creative routine. Missing a day will ruin the line of ticks but keep going and it will be so satisfying to look back on.
(BTW, applying the same rules to exercise helped me loads).
Fun & adventure
You have to do some living if want to get new ideas. Yes, you will have to sacrifice some evenings out and say no to fun things if they get in the way of your goals. But make sure you schedule in some time with your friends and family and step away from your workspace to experience things. Otherwise your work will be as stale as your dull existence and no one will notice when you die a wasted failure. (Soz, still a bit gwumpy).
Whatever floats your boat (that isn’t work) – do that with your favourite people and trust that your work will benefit.
Follow this advice
(as I need to)
I should say that everybody is different and we all respond to various ways of working, blah blah blah… But that just sounds like another excuse to me. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, follow my own advice and get back to chasing those dreams.
Let me know if you have anything to add or have tried any of these methods in the past! And just know that experiencing inspiration & motivation peaks and troughs is part of being a creative; getting over those hurdles is how we become creative geniuses 😉
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