Lost your creative spark? These superb insider tricks by freelancers will help
You can't find the energy to work right now. You don't know how or when it happened, but all motivation has disappeared.
It happens. But losing that creative spark is more common than you think. It's a common occurrence amongst the freelancing community. So what can you do to get back on track? How will you overcome this loss of creative appetite?
I asked people on Twitter how they reignite their creativity and got the following wisdom. From rest and becoming more organised to tackling admin, I've picked out their best tips and tricks, along with some of my ideas, to help you get over this hump.
"Push through it," says Kendyll Hillegas, an artist and illustrator from Boston, Massachusetts. "I might need to shift gears if I am really stuck, but in general my approach is to keep moving ahead. I try to live with the discomfort, realising that I’ve been in this state before and will be again, and it will turn out ok as long as I keep showing up."
It's good advice. I often like to give myself "just 10 minutes" to begin a difficult project and then three hours later; I'm flying through my workload. But battling through doesn't always work, so if you find yourself suffering, despite trying, opt for one of the following solutions.
Try another creative activity
"Do something else creative, but not related to the thing you’re struggling with," says Paul Smith, good friend and novelist from Manchester. "Even if it’s another, easier, project or just reading. Part of your brain still whirs about the main problem without you pushing it too hard. I have no scientific proof of this, but it often works for me."
Graphic designer? Pick up a paintbrush and work that canvas. Photographer? Put down the camera and write a short story. Marketer? Have you ever considered paper crafting? The very act of doing something completely different, something you'd never think to try will inspire you.
That's because doing something creative will help you become more mindful, which is ideal as it's believed that mindfulness can reduce anxiety, stress and depression. The very things that could be stopping you from being awesome.
Clean your house or office
Speaking of mindfulness, if you've been staring at your screen for too long, get up and do some cleaning. Whether you put the laundry on, polish your desk or throw the hoover around – it's not procrastination, it helps to refresh the brain.
"I remind myself of the real world and do a little clean and tidy," says illustrator Marcus Marritt. "Ignore my screen for a while as if we’ve argued, then kiss and make up."
For me, ironing is a superb way to switch off the mind. Stop those annoying anxieties whirring and allow me to make sense of things without really thinking. Then, Bam! An idea pops into my head; I become unstuck and rush to my desk to begin work again. "Let your mind wander and be open, and creativity will find you again," says Todd Murphy, a designer from Australia.
"Pop on some headphones and go out for a walk," says Simon Whittacker, a freelance illustrator from Yorkshire. "It's not guaranteed to work, but the fresh air and change of scene often get me thinking again."
Designer Rebecca Iriss agrees: "I have to be outdoors, climb to the top of a big fell, sit for a while and think. Remember why I’m here and what I’m doing. Remember what's outside of work. I’m lucky to live in the Lake District and have the Great Outdoors on my doorstep. The views are pretty helpful at helping me get my spark back!"
A walk in the fresh air and sunshine will release those beautiful endorphins, which boost happiness, and studies have shown that moving your body can even alleviate symptoms of depression. What's more, physical activity outdoors and "exposure to nature" are known to have positive effects on your mental health. Take that creative block!
Be inspired elsewhere
"When your spark has gone out, ignite it with someone else’s," says Kirsten Murray, a freelance art director and designer based in Thailand. "Going to creative talks, and listening to someone else speak about their ideas and projects, helps me to feel fired up about my work."
"Read more books, watch more films, listen then more music, visit more galleries," advises Raoul Concord. "Nothing more likely to give you that creative spark than surrounding yourself with it."
Graphic designer Louise Ormerod agrees: "Go to an exhibition. Surround yourself with others and feel their energy. Always gets my creative spark back when I see and surround myself with great work."
Rest, rest, and rest some more
"Do nothing," says Adam Townsend, founder of London studio, Cavalier. "Go on holiday. Do anything but try to think of ideas." He's got a point. Sometimes, creative block can be a sign that you need a break.
Rest is essential if you're going to be a successful freelancer. For this reason, my accountant always says that as soon as I return from holiday, I should book another. This means I have something to look forward to. But it also means I don't forget to schedule much-needed time off.
If you've been struggling lately, have a rest day. Switch off the phone. Turn on your out-of-office. Clients can wait. A day off won't do any harm. Escape. "I grab my keys, shut the door and try my best to get lost," says Guy Armitage, founder of Zealous. And don't forget to book your next holiday, if you haven't already!
Travel to somewhere new
Visiting new places, exploring cities for the first time and discovering parts of the world from a new perspective – travel can all fire up the imagination like nothing else. "I go do something I have never done before or experienced. New impressions can be great sparks," agrees Jakob, a photographer based in Raleigh, NC.
Not sure where to go next? Our city guides are a good starting point. We've got lots of suggestions for weekend getaways, and they don't have to be outside the UK (where the majority of you live).
Meeting new people, enjoying fresh experiences – it all helps to unblock your mind and spark creativity again.
Set yourself a fitness challenge
Whether a 10km run at your local park, a one-mile swim in the Lake District or a cycle ride around Snowdonia, set yourself the ultimate fitness challenge to give yourself a reason to throw your sports kit on and get out there to train. Exercise isn't just good for the soul (endorphin release, stress-busting, weight control, confidence-building, etc.); it's also a great way to clear the mind to help spark new ideas.
"I swim," says illustrator Niki Groom, aka Miss Magpie. "It’s a great way to move my poor overworked shoulder, and I find it meditative too. And as soon as I’m out of the pool, the ideas come in, and I can’t wait to get back to my studio."
Shake up your routine
You didn't go freelance to sit at your desk every day, following the usual 9-5 routine. You wanted more freedom and excitement. You wanted to be in control of your destiny. But just lately, you've become stuck in a boring rut.
"I find that my spark tends to fizzle when my routine gets too monotonous," says Alex Clauss, a designer from Phoenix, Arizona. "I'll do things to add some potential for the unexpected, like going to a different coffee shop, or taking a day trip, or trying a different medium than I normally work with."
What different thing can you do today? To make life more exciting?
Begin a side project
I recently waffled on about Creative Boom and how it's benefited me over the last nine years (July is our birthday month, don't you know). If you've read it, you'll know that the best thing about my side project, aside from becoming a full-blown business in its own right, is how it's helped to boost my skills and creativity.
When work is tedious, or creativity just isn't happening, a side project can be a quality distraction – one that reignites your creative passion, ready for when you return to "real" work.
Put your admin hat on
Sometimes, you're just not going to be in the right frame of mind for work. Use this period of flatness to sort invoices, chase payments, go through your workload, arrange tasks accordingly and perhaps sort your own social media channels. You know, all the stuff that doesn't require too much creative brainpower.
I also like to use these uncreative periods to do a little spring cleaning with my software and tools. Am I using the best project management solution? Can I use something a little more efficient to sort my accounts? Is there anything better out there to schedule my tweets? By carrying out these improvements, I feel refreshed and ready to come back fighting.
Sort the little, unimportant tasks
Even if they're personal, like booking a dentist appointment or taking those old clothes to the local charity shop, you know, those annoying tasks you've been putting off for ages. You'd be surprised how much these odd jobs affect your subconscious and stop you from being productive. It's like having a good old declutter. You can brush the cobwebs away and make room in your head to be more creative.
Talk to someone
"I like to talk to my housemate about what I'm up to (thankfully she's interested)," says Emma Nutall, a writer from London. "Getting it out loud usually gives it some legs again."
It's a simple trick but one that can be highly effective. Talking through your project and its process to someone who isn't involved can reignite your creativity, as they perhaps suggest things you've not yet considered. I do this with our tips articles and am grateful for the patience of my office buddies who happily give me feedback on my ideas.
Or what about seeking inspiration from children? "I speak to my seven-year-old. A child’s perspective always sparks something. Perhaps it’s a weird angle, but that’s a good thing," says Kate Moorhouse, a freelance graphic designer from Manchester.
Reflect on the past
It's good to ponder over past projects. Seeing the potential mistakes and congratulating yourself on previous successes. It might spark something new and get you motivated again.
"I go through old work that excited me back then and find some common threads to work on the solution to the current block," says Kate Farley, a printmaker and pattern designer from Birmingham. "Then, I start with no expectation but begin making/drawing/printing to find the joy of discovery again."
"Sometimes, it's good just to stop and simply reflect," says Atul, a designer and brand manager from New Delhi. "Previous problem solving and creative work often gives renewed encouragement."
Drew Hoolhorst, a Creative Lead at Google Cloud, adds: "Reread the first things you ever wrote. You can hear this tiny child version of yourself that has frightening amounts of wonderful enthusiasm and a complete lack of chill with any train of thought. Always makes me smile and remember why I do this."
Scream and shout
Finally, one of the funniest suggestions from our creative community surrounded the theme of screaming and shouting. "Scream into the void," said Richard Chambury, a London photographer. "Climb up a mountain and scream at the top," says Samatha Wilkinson, a Manchester designer whom we worked with on our latest Creative Boom design.
And if screaming doesn't help, or any of our other suggestions for that matter, then you might have to follow the advice of Christopher Edwards, a senior art director at WRG Live: "Get on LinkedIn!"