4 Ways I Wrangle Creativity When I'm Hopelessly Stuck

I call these “inspiration breaks,” or “productive procrastination.”
Publish date:
July 2, 2014
happiness, creativity, creative slump

The late Maya Angelou notably stated "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” While this may be true, sometimes I find my creativity getting stale. I end up typing and deleting the same sentence over and over, or spending my writing hours trolling the Facebook and Instagram feeds of my exes. When that happens (damn you, social media!), I try to do one of the following four things to get my brain nice and juicy again.

1. Productive procrastination. Often, when I am feeling uninspired, I take some time to study a similar(ish) project that I admire. Seeing someone else's creative success can help jolt my own, or at least give me some ideas.

If I've hit a wall with one of my fiction projects, I will pick up a book by an author I admire and read a couple of chapters. When the edit of the feature film I'm working on is frustrating me to tears, I'll watch a Jim Jarmusch or Sofia Coppola film. I call these “inspiration breaks,” or “productive procrastination.” At best, it helps me hit a mental refresh button. At worst, I got to watch a good movie.

2. Get the f*ck outside. From Thoreau to Einstein, nature has inspired some of the most notable creatives, and it's not a coincidence. A 2012 study by the University of Kansas found that a team of backpackers were 50 percent more creative after they had spent four days on the trail.

Now I'm not saying you need to spend four days roaming the woods like an animal; everyone's preferred natural setting is different –- some find respite getting lost in busy city streets while others crave serenity and silence. Whatever your outdoor jam is, spread it on thick for a creative jolt.

3. Chat about your project with a friend. When you're too close to a project, it can be helpful to welcome someone else's brain as a blank canvas. Invite a like-minded friend or mentor over for some tea or tequila and chat about your project. You never know what they will come up with.

OR, maybe you just need a little mental vacation –- invite a friend over and talk about anything but your project.

4. Settle your mind. It's hard to create when your brain is clogged with creatively disarming junk –- to-do lists, financial stresses or upcoming social events. When your brain is swarming and you can't focus, do something to settle your thoughts.

Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to meditate, unless, of course, that's how you settle your brain! For me, I settle myself in two ways. The first I call taking a brain dump. I write down everything I'm thinking (to-dos, angsts, reminders) on a piece of paper and then I put that paper away somewhere. Ahh, much better.

The other thing I do to refresh my monkey mind is clean my work space. I can't work in a messy space, so de-cluttering my desk simultaneously de-clutters my brain. I know many creative types thrive on chaos, so this won't work for everyone. Whatever you do to settle your mind –- paint, walk the dog, have sex, cook an extravagant meal -- do that.

Find Zoe productively procrastinating on Instagram, Twitter, or SexyTofu.com. And now, for a shameless plug: Check out Zoe's book, The Lusty Vegan, available for pre-sale on Amazon.