Advice – Bust that Rut

It happens. The ideas stop flowing. You stare blankly at a blank page or a computer screen. Maybe it’s lack of motivation, lack of ideas or you are just simply stuck. We all get in a creative rut from time to time. Here are a few ways to bust that rut.


1. Move your body.

Get out there. Run. Walk. Cycle. Zoomba. Whatever you need to do. Get out there and do it. I’m a fan of running and cycling. Your body is moving. Endorphins are flowing. And these activities don’t require focus (beyond making sure you aren’t hit by a car.) I’m able to get in a zone of movement and my thoughts flow a little differently that when sitting at a desk. You are also taking yourself away from the computer. While you are moving around there is no way you can produce. So it lifts that pressure and allows you to just think. If I get an idea I’m afraid of loosing I’ll stop mid cycle and jot it down in my phone and then just pick up and resume.

2. Do something new.

This is related to number one and can easily be combined. Bonus! Stepping away from the computer (see a theme starting here) and even stepping away from your sketchbook is great for freeing your mind. New experience bring back just a touch of that child like sense of wonder when all of your experience are new. Enter into this experiment with an open mind and your project nestled in the back of your mind and you may start making connections you’ve never made before. Go for a walk somewhere new. Pop into a new store or restaurant. Eat something you’ve never tried. See a new movie. Take a class in something totally new to you! (Glass blowing. Photography. Motorcycle repair. Whatever)

3. Use your words.

I’m totally a visual person. I meet someone and can’t remember their name for the life of me but I could probably tell you what they were wearing a few days later. Regardless I often start my creative process with words rather than visuals.
Here are my top 3 exercises for using words to start generating ideas.

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List – Yup. Super basic. But just listing out associations and variations on a theme can be a great way to start getting you thinking and can be a jumping off point for the next 2 exercises.

Brainstorm bubbles – Again. Pretty basic. But it’s tried and true and it works. I’ll often skip the list and go straight into this. Flow off into tangents and different word associations. Map it out and see how words at different ends of the spectrum relate.

Cross reference – This is great for trying to find that zinger of an idea. Those amazing ideas where disparate things come together and just make sense. Take some of the elements from your list and brain bubbles and make a grid. Try a few different grids even. Might take a few tries. Write words along the top and side and draw a grid. Then see what comes to mind when you cross the 2 words. This especially works for if there are 2 different aspects to what you are doing.

For example I made one of these in a project for an agency I used to work at. We were moving our office to Chinatown and wanted to make a moving announcement. The agency logo is a saint so along one side I had words related to the saint and along one side words related to Chinatown. You can see he jade saint/Buddha we came up with here.

You can do this high level and see what word you come up with with a cross. But I love his for thinking of unusual tactical applications for a gorilla campaign or approaching a website differently. Sometimes I’ll even sketch in the boxes and start to get more visual here.

4. Make something shitty.

Seriously. Just spend a few minutes intentionally trying to make something bad. How f-Ed up and wierd and absurd and crazy can you make it. It can be anything. The rules are use pencil and paper. Not your computer. And to take less than 1/2 an hour to do it. Why would I waste 1/2 hour wasting time on a deadline making pointless crap? Because it takes your brain away from good. Striving to make something good is what gets us stuck most often. Terrified to make anything bad we freeze. Also striving to make something good can sometimes land you smack dab in the middle of middleoftheroadpleaseeveryonemediocratyland. And mediocre is worse than bad. Spend sometime being bad. It could lead to great.

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5. Get out the timer.

This one plays off number 4. Cause it’s about getting out of the “good trap”. Step 1. Set a timer for 15 or 20 or 30 min (whatever feels good). And in that time try to do as many concept sketches as possible. Set a minimum number you want to hit. The game is not about quality it’s about quantity. This frees you from the good trap by changing the focus. And often you’ll find yourself going into strange and unexpected directions to hit your numbers goal. A lot of the time it will be terrible. Sometimes it will be brilliant. But at the end you’ll definitely be able to go in once there are a lot of ideas and see bits and pieces you want to push further and explore more.

6. Talk to someone.

Talk to you colleague, classmate, friend, mom. Show them your work. Tell them your problem. They are guaranteed to have a different view purely because the aware different people than you. Talking to other people helps you see your work through other people’s eyes. Which is the eventual goal isn’t it? To have other people see it? (Unless you are making a Johnny Depp fan girl poster for your bedroom or something). Even if you hate all their ideas and suggestions it will help you see things in a different light and open you to new possibilities.


7. Sweat it out.

So a lot of these ideas are all about taking a break, not focusing on making something good, stepping away to gain perspective… And that works to push through a creative problem a lot of the time, but there are sometimes that you just need to sweat it out. Sit at your desk until 3 am and barely producing anything while wearing you pencil or mouse into stubs. Sometimes you need to feel the struggle, drink 12 cups of coffee, pull out your hair and keep grinding till you push through and make something amazing. Or at least make something at all. When is it a sweat it out moment? That’s for you to decide. Or you may not get to decide. That may be a deadline thing. But with practice and patience you’ll know when to use which trick and build up an arsenal of your own for busting “the dread”.richard