Seven tips for creative inspiration

Recently I wrote about inspiration, and the challenge of coming up with fresh ideas as a creative. This time we’re talking the nuts and bolts of how to do it.

1. Take time out
When we’re busy, it’s more important than ever to allow ourselves to daydream. This is an area of our lives that so many of us neglect: we’re so caught up with what we’re doing that we don’t give ourselves permission to take time out mentally.

It’s too easy to spend so much time working in our businesses that we don’t step back and work on them. The same goes for our creative selves: without input, there’s no output. It simply isn’t possible to keep making without recharging our batteries.

Often, the connections we make and ideas we come up with happen when we aren’t actively thinking about something. So give yourself permission to switch off and take a breather. Seriously – it’s absolutely fine!

2. Go to the source
What inspires you? What gives you that energetic, enthusiastic feeling inside?

No two people are alike in what floats their boat. The artist Grayson Perry goes to galleries on weekdays when it’s quiet, so he can glean new ideas for his work and engage with what is on show. The award-winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw returns to Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire to top up his creative stores.

Make time for yourself

If there’s a particular place you like to go for inspiration, or simply to clear your head, make time to do it – even if it’s only for a few minutes a week. Going to the source is the best gift you can give yourself as a creative.

3. Note it down
Any journalist worth their salt will tell you that always having a notebook to hand is essential. If words aren’t your thing, there are equally good ways of noting something that catches your eye.

Photographers carry compact cameras; creatives use handy apps such as Evernote or Pocket to record images, weblinks, articles and anything else they’ve seen. Pinterest is great for organising visual content into virtual mood boards.

I often use an app on my phone called Parrot: voice notes are immediate and save having to write anything down; the advantage is that I can go back over them later and properly absorb what’s been said.

If something piques your interest, note it, get it down somewhere online, photograph it or cut it out and pop it on a mood board, or you might forget it.

4. Know your onions
One lesson we can learn from top creatives like Grayson Perry is that they never stop trawling for ideas: in fact, they actively seek them out.

Trawl for ideas

Keeping abreast of what’s happening in your field, going to galleries and museums, reading industry publications, surfing the web to check out others’ work, engaging with others online and offline, talking shop – all of these are really helpful.

Scanning news stories, interacting in online forums, groups and the blogosphere, as well as checking out creative writing and longform, can be very rewarding and a great source of support and ideas for writers.

And if you are a writer: read, read, read!

If you haven’t done that classic work of literature you’ve always been meaning to get through, or that modern novel or poetry anthology has been gathering dust beside your bed, now’s a great time to start.

If you’re really busy, just do a few pages at a time. Study the masters, because being exposed to great authors really does help your writing.

5. Mind map it
While Tony Buzan popularised the spider diagram in the 1970s, this method of thought trailing has in fact been around for centuries. It’s a very freeing tool for creative brainstorming, because it isn’t linear thinking which can order and restrict your thoughts.

You start with a central topic, then work out from there in as many directions as you like. One thought bubble follows on from another, and you can find yourself coming up with ideas you hadn’t even previously imagined.

6. Creativity breeds creativity
The more you tap into your creative energy, the more easily it comes. For example, following on from my last article about inspiration, I took a moment to think of other things I could write about. Within the space of a few minutes I came up with three story ideas: one related to that specific article, which resulted in this piece, while the other two fed into some of the other creative things I enjoy, which I’ll be writing about later.

Once you start to build momentum, you get into the flow. As the late, great Maya Angelou said:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

The trick is to keep going, and that happens with regular practice.

7. Prioritise your practice
If your creative cup runneth over and you’ve lots of ideas, trying to work out which one you should follow up can be tricky.

Go for the one that’s most feasible, interesting or time-sensitive right now, then pencil in the rest to do when you can. This way you can start on a realistically achievable project, rather than scattering your energy by trying to tackle everything at once.

Great ideas won’t go away, so you can sit on them for a little while – but do make sure they don’t get buried completely by the workaday stuff that you have to do.

It’s great you’re feeling so inspired, so enjoy it!

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