Being creative is a muscle — it needs to be worked in order to stay active.
But just like a muscle, it can also get used to the same exercises if you aren’t careful to change things up every now and then.
If you’re ever stuck in a rut, try one of these:
1. The “J.K. Rowling” Brainstorm.
Legend has it J.K. Rowling began her fateful journey to creating the Harry Potter series by writing notes on paper napkins.
Whether that’s true or not, it is a great exercise to jot down ideas that are very meaningful. Do you know how annoying it is to write on a napkin? It’s not a great surface. Which makes what you write all that more special.
Go to a diner, order a cup of coffee, and try it.
2. Write 10 ideas every day.
This is one of my favorite (and standard) “creative” muscle workouts.
Every day, write down 10 ideas you think would be fun to pursue. Don’t worry about how long they would take to make, budget, or whether or not they are realistic in any way — just let your mind wander and see what it believes it could make real.
You’ll be surprised how, after a few days, you’ll be flooded with great ideas.
3. Brainstorm every idea that couldn’t possibly work.
This is like approaching creativity backwards.
Next time you’re in a meeting and everyone is all, “Let’s write down all our best ideas,” if you get stuck, try going the other direction. Write down anything and everything that “couldn’t possibly work.”
Funny how this often leads to an obvious and brilliant solution that “just might be crazy enough to work.”
4. Write with your non-dominant hand.
This is an exercise I learned in college while taking a poetry class.
To emphasize the importance of minimalism, we were instructed to write poems with our non-dominant hand. What happens when you do this is you get so frustrated by how slow (and sloppy) you are writing that you actually subconsciously delete words for the sake of getting to the heart of what you actually want to say.
The end result?
A wildly short and yet provocative piece. Try it — with anything.
5. Draw what you want to say:
Even if you are not an illustrator, there is something about using symbols and stick figures to communicate your message instead of words.
Whether you are trying to figure out how to organize a proposal, a chapter of your book, a presentation, etc., try drawing your idea instead of writing it out.
The words will practically reveal themselves.
6. Construct it all by memory:
This is another helpful exercise I’ve learned through studying poetry.
Instead of sitting in front of your notepad and trying to get everything down on paper, construct your message by memory in your head. If you stick with this long enough, two things happen.
First, you automatically delete anything that isn’t vibrant enough to be remembered (a positive), and second, you keep things short and concise because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to remember it.
Then, once you’ve got it all the way you want it, write it down.
7. Speak it as you write it.
Give it a voice.
Sometimes sitting in silence with your brain running laps ends up working against you.
Say it out loud.
Play with it and work with it. Writers especially, read your work out loud. I promise, you’ll come up with some amazing material by using your real voice as a tool.
8. Go for a walk with a pen.
Just a pen, no notepad.
If something really great hits you, write it on your hand. Again, a test in brevity here: When we carry around notebooks we sometimes feel compelled to jot down everything that comes to mind. But if you only have a pen and your tablet is your hand, then you will be more mindful of what you ultimately choose to write down.
Brevity tends to reveal the most simple (and best) material anyway.
9. Have an “idea storm.”
This was one of our tactics when I worked at Idea Booth.
For big campaigns, we gather the whole team around our big table and we hold an “idea storm.” One person stands at the head of the room (where the walls are painted with idea paint — you can write on them with dry erase marker), and as people contribute ideas, they all get written down on the board.
After about 15 minutes, we step back and circle the best ones, and then as a group we dive deep and expand on each one, sharing out loud how we would bring them to life.
I mean, so simple but so undervalued.
Too many people try to be creative in a vacuum. They sit in a room by themselves and tap their pencil on their desk and wait for brilliance to strike. It doesn’t really happen like that.
Instead, start reading everything surrounding the challenge:
Read about what other people have done in that particular niche, read case studies, read about the history of whatever you are looking to solve, etc.
Read, and the answer will reveal itself.
11. Detox from all technology.
Again, extremely undervalued and rarely done because it is a challenge, but the results always speak for themselves.
Next time you find yourself in a creative rut, take a Saturday, wake up early, and fall off the grid. Turn off your phone and put it in your closet. Don’t open your laptop. Spend your entire day detached from the digital world, and every time you get that “inkling” to do something or you get bored, journal or go for a walk or read instead.
I promise you, come afternoon you’ll be flooded with ideas.
12. Brainstorm in front of an audience.
We all have that friend we share everything with.
Well, use them as a resource. If you’re struggling with an idea, invite them over, pull out the whiteboard, sit them down, and say, “Look, I just need to think through this out loud. Let me explain what I’m thinking, and then you provide me with any feedback or ideas.”
By the time you’re done explaining the challenge, chances are you’ll have realized the answer yourself.
13. Use social media to gain feedback.
That’s really what social media is used for — conversation.
Instead of spending three months bashing your head against the wall trying to come up with “the perfect idea,” just start testing and sharing things on social media and see what people respond to.
Brainstorm by interacting with people and adjust as you go along, based on feedback.
14. Wake up at odd hours.
This can be extremely jarring but it can also be really effective.
If you’re used to getting up at 6 or 7 a.m., try getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning, pitch black, and starting your day then. This is not for the faint of heart, but there is something to be said for drastically adjusting your surroundings to spark your creativity.
15. Create it in a completely different format.
As a musician, I tend to do this a lot as a cross-training exercise: I take something I am working on writing and compose the same story through music (piano, an instrumental, a song, etc.).
This is another challenge in keeping things concise, and also tends to reveal a lot about the underlying emotions of what it is you’re creating. Music is, after all, a language.
16. Write it as a letter.
If you’re ever struggling to figure out how to say something, or who it is you’re “talking to” with what you’re creating, image it as a letter to one person.
Visualize that one person in your mind:
What do they look like?
How old are they?
What do they want to hear?
Write as if you are speaking to them and them only, and watch the voice reveal itself naturally.
17. Create consistently!
And finally, the real secret to all creative brainstorming is to do it regularly — every day, no matter what.
That’s how you keep that muscle engaged and alive