Ten Ways to Jump-Start Your Creativity

We all get stuck at some point, staring at a blank canvas or page without a clue what to do next, or even first. Here are just a few tricks that can help you get started.

  1. Make a mind map

    Take a blank sheet of paper, and jot down one word in the middle. It might have a direct bearing on what you’re going after, but it may not. Somewhere next to this word, write a new word, above, below, or diagonal to it, connecting the two with a line. Keep branching out from there until you have a concept you want to pursue. If you hit a dead end, start a new branch. This is a great way to brainstorm.

  2. Change your environment

    Sometimes it helps to have a change of scenery. Go for a walk, go to the mall, take a trip to another state, go to a new restaurant. If you’re observant, you’ll find something interesting that will spark a new idea.

  3. Play with a child

    Children are naturally creative. Everything is so new and fascinating to them. Try to think like them, and capture that innocent joy.

  4. Listen to music

    Pay attention to rhythms, textures, themes, even colors. Try to express that visually. Wassily Kandinsky made a career out of abstractly expressing music.

  5. Cook something

    The methodical, repetitive tasks involved in cooking can give your mind a chance to work on creative problems. Your mind wanders, and you unconsciously sort through things, coming upon a solution. Cooking is itself a creative pursuit. Ask all the people who have “winged it” when making something to eat. Sometimes the food is inedible, but sometimes you discover something highly enjoyable. Sometimes exotic foods inspire you, providing you with a theme from which to draw.

  6. Watch the News

    This is a dangerous one since the TV so easily sucks you in and robs you of productivity and creativity. The news can be compelling or appalling. There’s a lot of ugliness out there. Create something to counter that ugliness, or call it out and show it for what it is. Either way, you reveal truth in your art.

  7. Look at other artists

    Go to a museum, gallery, or local show, even if it has nothing to do with your own style or medium. A Gerhard Richter retrospective might inspire a writer to create a story where characters collide and jar each other much like the colors of his paintings.

  8. Materials

    What does your material do? How is charcoal different from mud? What happens when you use it on a smooth surface or a rough surface or a substance no one has ever used before?

    Try a new material for a change. If you use a slow-drying oil most of the time, try a fast-drying medium. If you’re used to painting with a brush, try a painting knife or a stick. You will be forced to do things differently and think in a new way. Then when you go back to what you did before, you have gained a new perspective on it.

  9. Rituals and Habits

    I start looking forward to my morning coffee buzz when I begin grinding the beans and put it in the filter, even though I am five to ten minutes away from a single drop. Likewise, the ritual of preparing a canvas and picking up a humble piece of charcoal can fill your mind with ideas and creative anticipation.

    Once a habit is formed, it is hard to break. Make it a habit to work on your art on a specific day of the week or at a specific time each day. You’ll find yourself bursting with ideas when that time rolls around.

  10. Deadlines

    Remember those all-nighters you pulled your freshman year of college to get that term paper done, and you still managed to get a decent grade on it, maybe even an A? That was adrenaline, baby (and probably caffeine). Don’t forget that the pressure of the deadline was that made that possible in the first place.

    There really is nothing like having a deadline to force you to put your nose to the grindstone and get cracking on your project. (I think) Douglas Adams once said, “Writing is easier when you have a gun to your head.” (Please correct me if I’m wrong. Thanks.)

    This isn’t a recommended way of working since it causes a great deal of stress and anxiety if you live by it, but it can work wonders.

What are some of the ways you jump-start your creativity? Share in the comments below.

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