When you’re struggling for an idea, do a Nike

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Just do it. Yes, that’s one of my top tips for today – or for any day when the creative juices aren’t running maybe quite as freely as you would like them to. Because no matter how creative we are, no matter what gems of genius we’ve produced in the past, however many awards we may have won, sometimes we just have days where – let’s be honest – it ain’t happenin’.

That’s not just my opinion, either. No, I’ve been through my phonebook and spoken to a few other creatives too to see how they deal with the dreaded dry spell. And I was surprised by how similar the advice is. Here it is, whittled down to a top five:

1. Have a change of scene

A lot of freelances in particular work at home. Yes, it may well be a dedicated home office or study in the form of a converted spare bedroom, and it may well be “ideally” set up for you. But sometimes that same space may feel oppressive and restricting; you just need to get away from it.

I’m loath to give them a free plug, but recently I’ve taken to doing a fair bit of writing in Starbucks. Nice table and chair, someone else making me coffee (oh, and all right, lob us one of those caramel shortbreads too – cheers), free wifi, free electricity. What’s not to love? Oh, the yummy mummies with Tarquin and Molly in tow, yelling at each other – that’s right. Good point. Gotta love those noise-cancelling headphones, haven’t you?

2. Sir! Step AWAY from the desk, sir!

It can be incredibly intimidating staring at a blank page. It’s just there, looking at you, isn’t it? Blankly. Enticingly. Frighteningly. It’s so ready to take your 26 letters of alphabet arranged into something so crisp and insightful that it would make Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story (something he claimed to be his best work ever, incidentally) look like the instructions to a washing machine. And yet not one ounce of your usual genius is emanating from your fingers. STOP. Just get up and leave it for however long you reasonably can. If you haven’t got a deadline – what the hell, take the day off. Nobody’s gravestone ever read, “I wish I’d worked more”.

(Oh, and that Ernest Hemingway six-word story, in case you’re interested, is:

“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”


3. Do some exercise

If you’re anything like me, you really rather hate the thought of going to the gym or going for a run, but you’re never sorry you’ve been once you’ve made the effort. Or if you just don’t “do” exercise, a brisk walk is good enough. A blast of air and your muscles pounding away for a good 30 minutes is going to reinvigorate you and make the old grey matter a lot sharper too. Fact.

4. Pick up the phone and talk to someone

Talking through a problem or a creative block can really help. My wife isn’t even in my industry (she’s a teacher) but sometimes a quick chat with her can make me look at things from a different angle. And just going back to point one, if you’re cooped up at home, it’s easy to stagnate and not talk to anybody all day. Admittedly the old adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” is maybe a bit twee, but you get the idea. Talk about it – you may well find the new angle you need to get going.

5. Go all Nike

And just to tie this all back in with the title, go all Nike on the problem: JUST DO IT. So even though you may not have what you would usually call an idea, sometimes getting started is the biggest obstacle of all to overcome.

My mother, an artist, does a lot of printmaking. So she’ll do a lot of experimentation with various colours, textures and so on before she settles on one (or two or three). Sometimes, the experiments lead her off in another direction and she ends up creating something different to what she’d originally intended, but something which she’s very pleased with – and which she ends up selling.

I know that, for me as a writer, the blank page can be the worst place to be sometimes. But often, once I’ve started, there’s just no stopping me. Take this blog, for instance...

This advice isn’t set in stone, of course – they’re just opinions. So if you find the page blank on your MacBook (what, you’re not still fumbling around on a PC, are you?!) and you have your own little tricks to help you over the barren desert of creative constipation to the overflowing oasis of creative nirvana, then well done you for adopting and using those little tricks. But please do share them with us all so that we can learn from your wisdom.

by Ashley Morrison

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