Have you ever been so drained that no matter how hard you try to summon it, the muse just refuses to show up? It’s like you no longer have the bug anymore. There’s nothing inside your brain to do the thing, whatever that thing may be.
You’re not alone.
Every single artist I know, no matter what their craft, has had this problem at one point or another. Sometimes is stress related, sometimes it’s boredom, and sometimes it’s just a weird funk. Whatever your reason for the lack of creativity you’re feeling, I have some ideas to help you get through it.
Today I want to talk about brainstorming the funk away. I don’t mean drawing a big puffy cloud on a sheet of white paper and using crayons to write words in it (unless you’re into that – then by all means, go for it!).
The type of brainstorming I’m talking about is the type that will hopefully get your gears moving again – and fast.
So do yourself a favour and read on.
Steps to brainstorming the funk away
Write some lists.
This is definitely close to the crayon-wielding type of brainstorming we were taught how to do in elementary school, but that’s because it’s still useful even as adults. As you’ll come to learn, I am obsessed with lists. I use them for everything, from the typical grocery lists, to writing novel scenes and art ideas. I have files and notebooks and papers everywhere that are chock full of lists.
So how does this help you?
I want you to sit down right now with a pen and a piece of paper. Something tangible you can hold, not just an open word document on your screen. Now take a few minutes to write out 5 things you’d like to do with your art. A short story about a kitten who saves the world? Maybe a painting of a kitten? Or a kitten themed costume? (My cat is a bad influence on my art.) Whatever comes to mind, just write 5 ideas for projects, big or small, that you’d like to do.
Write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s a project you’d like to expand on from something you’ve already done, or something you’ve been wanting to do for a while and never got around to. Just write. Make sure you get 5 things on that list before moving on. (Even better, download the FREE worksheet set I created! There are spots just for this stuff!)
Got them? Good. How does that feel? Did it shake anything loose? If that still didn’t help, don’t worry. I’m not done yet.
Use your past projects.
Wait, what does that mean?
Skim through your finished stories or novels, or the art you’ve got pinned up on your walls. Just take some time to go through all of the things you’ve already accomplished.
While doing that, take some notes. Write down at least one thing about each project that you love. Maybe there was a new technique you tried for that painting, or you loved a certain character who made an appearance in your last story. Whatever it is that you love about that project, write it down.
Once you have that page of notes, however big or small, you should start to feel a little better. Look at how awesome that stuff is! Doesn’t it make you want to do more?
Okay, so maybe that won’t help you a whole lot, but here’s the thing. Looking through your past accomplishments should, at the very least, get your mind thinking about how you managed to create something that good. It might not spark an idea for the next big thing, but hopefully it will still get your creative mojo working again.
If you really want to use your past art in a way to help you get out of your funk, but it didn’t trigger any cool ideas, think about maybe reworking that piece somehow instead. Paint it or draw it again, or recreate it using a different medium. Rewrite the story from the point of view of the best friend or the antagonist.
I’m sure you can come up with a cool way to rework an old project into something shiny and new that will lure your muse back.
Try something new.
Okay, so this one is not about traveling the world or skydiving. When I say try something new, I mean try a new medium.
If you work primarily in graphite (I won’t judge if you’re still using the mechanical pencil you use in math class – I did that for years), then try watercolour paints. If you usually create visual art, think about trying writing. Or if you are a writer, think about picking up a paintbrush and some acrylic paints and seeing where it takes you.
You don’t have to be great at the new thing – you don’t even have to be good – for it to help you work through whatever might be blocking your muse from making contact. All you have to do is try that new thing and see what happens. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it and keep doing it.
The point of trying a new medium on for size is to keep your brain thinking creatively, but to challenge it. If you are forcing yourself to use something you aren’t accustomed to, it no longer feels like routine. And as all creators know, routine is not a friend you want staying for too long.
If that STILL didn’t help, keep reading.
Refer to your shelves.
While it’s not exactly a rule, most creatives I know have at least a small collection of books. Some prefer novels, others prefer biographies, and others still prefer reference books. Others keep collectibles on their shelves, like geeky statues (I’m horrible for this), crystals, framed photos and art, and fun little trinkets.
What does this have to do with brainstorming?
Grab a few things at random from your shelves. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
So here’s what you’re going to do. (This will be different based on what your preferred medium or art is, but I’ll simplify it.)
Take those things and write quick descriptions. If you picked up a trinket, give yourself a minimum word count, or set a timer, and write about that thing. If you grabbed a book, write a review about why you did or didn’t like it. Or better yet, write a short (original) scene involving the character you loved the most.
Oh, and don’t forget to write yourself a list of what inspires you about those items. Lists are so helpful!
Grab your weapon (medium) of choice and do a quick sketch or speed painting of any trinkets you picked up. If there are books, do the same for those, but create a quick character sketch of someone from the book. No need to go into great detail unless you want to. Just something to get your art muscles working again.
Once you are done with whatever you pulled from your shelves, step back and look at what you’ve compiled. Do you have some new art you like? Did you write something that could turn into a cool short story, maybe? If not, don’t fret. Just because you didn’t create something you love right away, it doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing.
Write another list.
This one is something that may be easier or harder than the first list.
This time I want you to write what drives you. Just grab a pen or pencil and start writing words. Questions and answers. Dates. What do you love? What is your motivation for continuing to pursue whichever art form you have chosen? What are your long terms goals?
If you’re a hobbyist, this may seem a little pointless, but believe me when I say it’s not. Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your art will give you an end goal. That will set you up so that you know whether you even need to worry about this funk, or if you should just forget about it for now and ride it out until the muse shows up knocking on your door.
Do you want to become a full time creator? If so, how do you plan to make that happen?
If you are just a hobbyist who paints sometimes on the weekend, is that what you want your art to be in the long run, or is there some secret wish to become a full time artist?
While these questions may seem a bit silly to some, they will help get you think more seriously about why you may be in a funk creatively, and how worrying about it may not be the best way to get through it.
Keep pushing yourself. Seriously. It might take a while to really get out of your funk. While the things I’ve listed above may help, and in some cases may be the thing that sparks another really great new project, there is no guarantee when it comes to something like this. Don’t beat yourself up if you tried everything above and still feel stuck.
Just because you didn’t create something you love right away, it doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing.
You may need to repeat the tasks multiple times before you really start to feel like you’re getting somewhere. Just don’t give up. The muse always comes back. It’s needy and loves to be the center of attention. Sometimes the best thing a creator can do in a funk is not think about it. Take a few days to be away from your art completely and recharge.
Keep your health in mind.
Sometimes a creative funk is a sign of something else. Maybe you need to take a break. Maybe you’ve been going too hard for too long, and you are exhausted. It happens to everyone.
As creators, we don’t always feel like we are working when we write or work on our art. This is a huge part of the draw to pursue an art as a career – but it has its downsides. The major one is that we don’t always know when to stop working for the day.
Sometimes a project is going really well, and we are in awe of the thing we’re creating. That’s good! But try not to work all day every day. Make sure you take time for yourself away from your art. I know it’s hard, especially when it’s something you love, but you’ll pay the consequences if you don’t.
Not only will it compromise your immune system, but it will affect your work. Don’t work yourself too hard.
Brainstorming the funk away is something that is only going to work if it’s your creativity that’s being stifled and not your health.
Don’t exhaust yourself!
I can’t be clear enough about that. Exhaustion is a huge player in creative blocks, and it’s one that is so often overlooked.
Some final notes of inspiration for you.
I hope that something I’ve written here helps you break through and find your muse again. I really do. But here’s something else to keep in mind.
You can’t force art.
I know that a lot of writers out there will disagree, and that’s okay. But not everyone can sit down at a desk and write 500 words a day religiously. And that’s okay! You do not need to create a painting or write a story every day to be an artist or a writer. Don’t force something that refuses to happen if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
For those of you out there who can force the work to happen, I commend you. I can’t do that. A lot of people can’t. But that doesn’t make us lesser creators. In fact, a lot of professionals can’t force it.
Keep that in mind when you are sitting at your workspace staring at a blank canvas, empty word document, or stark white paper.
If the muse doesn’t feel like playing today, maybe it’s a good day for a day off. Go outside, grab coffee with friends, do something you enjoy other than creating.
Remember: One of the most important things you can do to get out of your funk is do little things that will help nudge the barrier away.
Oh hey, did I mention I created a set of worksheets to go along with this post? They’re pretty awesome, and they’re a good way to keep your brainstorming organized. Oh, and they’re FREE! You can get them here.