Creative Inspiration – What to do when the ideas aren’t coming?

The number one issue: Getting Started!

As working creatives, we can find ourselves getting stuck in various steps of the creative process, but often the hardest hurdle is simply just getting started! We have all been there. Staring at an empty word document. A flashing cursor. A blank canvas. Where does creative inspiration come from? How can I generate inspiration when the well is dry? The best way to ‘get started’ is developing practices that prepare you to meet any lull in your creative inspiration head on!


1. Eliminate the threat!


ID-100194907 Creative inspirationYou can’t come up with an idea. You become stressed that the inspiration is gone. The stress fills your thoughts and you are not able to come up with ideas.  You are caught in anxiety’s vicious circle.  When you sit down to start on your project, eliminate the things that trigger stress.  Maybe you need to turn off the phone and email for a little while if that is taking some of your focus.  Shut your office door.  If it is the deadline that is causing stress then develop good deadline management techniques.  The point is that if you can get rid of at least a few of the things that send you spiraling into anxiety your mind will be that much freer to create!


2. Create comfort in the familiar!


When starting a new project from scratch, the sheer number of choices in front of you can be overwhelming.  I think a good practice is to not only create a comfortable work environment where all the things you need are readily available, but also a uniquely targeted pallet of  tools designed with the things you need to start a project in your creative field.

Let me give you an example.  As a sound designer for television promos I have a template that I designed in my software that contains a lot of preset channels, plugins, and routing for a typical promo project.  I also have a organized toolbox of folders containing starting sound effects that can get me going quickly on a new project.   I have preselected these quality sounds so that I don’t have to be overwhelmed searching through thousands of sounds to find a handful that I like.   Once I find my groove with the project then I can switch out my standard starting sounds for more unique ones as time allows.  This way I don’t waste time drowning in choices at the beginning of a project when my creative inspiration needs a jump start.


3. Saving your ideas for a rainy day!


ID-10090564 creative inspirationThis one is easy, when your creative inspiration is at its highest – bank some of it for a rainy day.  If you are a songwriter and you  think of some new song lyrics on your way to a gig, record them into your phone.  If you area writer and you come up with a funny script idea in the middle of the night, jot it down on a notepad next to your bed.  If your a music supervisor and you find a great song that isn’t right for your current film, mark it and save it for the next one. Whatever your way of jotting down an idea is, doing it now and often will create a rolodex of ideas to act as a jumping off point when you’ve hit a wall.



4. Riff off the masters!


When you started studying your craft you probably spent a good deal of time learning how the masters did it.  Memorizing Charlie Parker licks on your saxophone.  Analyzing Chagall’s choice of colors. Tearing apart Bach note by note.  It wasn’t so you would be exactly like them.  It was so you would understood how those masters did what they did so well. Then you could use that knowledge when developing a unique style of your own.

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” -George Bernard Shaw

So next time you are stuck, pull out something you like and use it as a jumping off point.  For example, when composing a new piece I may spend a half hour trying to imitate the sound and tone of a particular violin piece I like, then use that sound to write an entirely new piece.  Take a line you like from a famous writer and try to write a story about that line.  The idea here is to be ‘riffing’ off the masters not ‘ripping’ off the masters.  Don’t steal or plagiarize – just find something to use that will ignite your creative inspiration.


5. Repetitions builds confidence!


ID-100184178 creative inspirationOk here we go again, practice – practice – practice.  The more you do something the more systems and workflow you create.  Confidence is one of the best tools you can develop for fighting off lack of creative inspiration.  So create as often as you can.  Especially if you are a beginner, work like a professional who has to create every single day at work.  It can only help build your confidence, speed, and skill.


6. Start.  No matter what.  Start!


If nothing else is working just start.  Pick up your pencil and start writing, sit at the piano and start plucking out notes, take your brush and start making shapes.   It may be terrible, it may not be inspired, but it will surely lead to inspiration.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

I am sure you have a great idea that has led you on to an even better idea.  Why can’t a bad idea lead you to a good idea that leads to an even better idea?  The answer is it can and often will.  Don’t walk away and wait for inspiration to hit – make it come by simply starting!  I am sure I could site psychological studies and find examples of dozens of famous artist saying the same thing but it really isn’t that complicated.  Just start.




As working creatives in the real world, we have to keep earning a living wether you are in the mood or not. That means you have to keep creating! Writer’s block or creative block is not an option. Depending on your field you are likely answering to an agent, a publisher, a producer, a client, a creative director, marketing executive, or some other authority figure waiting anxiously for your next piece of creative brilliance.  Don’t leave them hanging – you need to find a way to keep the ideas flowing!  Don’t wait for creative inspiration, make it. Own it.  Stay creative.


(Photos courtesy of stockimages, imagery majestic & arztsamui/

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