Not feeling creative- need ideas.
January 8, 2006 12:18 AM   Subscribe

What do you do for droughts in creativity?

I personally love photography, but am feeling an absolute dearth of new ideas, which has the effect of making me find excuses to not go play. What tips, mental tricks, or actions help you through? Bonus points for ideas that don't cost a lot of money :)
posted by pjern to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
To stimulate my creativity, I like to read the thesaurus, flip/click through the encyclopedia, do random keyword searches, browse stock photo sites for metaphors, and do brainstorming on paper.

(I do freelance writing and marketing.)
posted by acoutu at 12:20 AM on January 8, 2006

Maybe the rut youre in is more physical than mental. Try changing up your exercise routine drastically (if you're big on cardio, try powerlifting, or vice versa), and your mind may just feel more lucid.
posted by merlin17 at 12:21 AM on January 8, 2006

I know a lot of creative people who swear by techniques found in Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way- I own it, but haven't read it yet. Free at your local library!

When I'm feeling blocked (I'm a professional musician, and dabble in writing/photography for fun), I try and force myself to create. Don't use your "dearth of new ideas" as an excuse; go out and play anyway.
posted by the_bone at 12:38 AM on January 8, 2006

Take a look at the Oblique Strategies, maybe?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:42 AM on January 8, 2006

In no particular order:

Go for a walk (the old favourite). Go somewhere new (anywhere, as long as it's new). Talk to a stranger. Doodle/draw. Watch some great films. Research something you are interested in but have not investigated. Start/Stop drinking coffee/watching TV (delete as appropriate - change of habits can be stimulating). Play a sport/game. Ask a friend for a good book. Seek unusual/new music. Solve a problem. Take photos without using the view-finder. And the best idea of all: get a lomo (look for a cheap second-hander if possible).

Well thats dried up my creativity for the time being.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:43 AM on January 8, 2006

Try sleeping on it. Consciously think of what you want to achieve, or what you're stymied by, before drifting off. Keep a pad and pen by your bed.
posted by rob511 at 12:52 AM on January 8, 2006

AmbroseChapel beat me to it. I second the Oblique Strategies. (Brian Eno is my hero.)
posted by garethspor at 12:55 AM on January 8, 2006

To summarize MetaMonkey: Change something. Change anything in your daily routine.

Change what you shoot, the equipment you use, the cereal you eat, the places you visit, the people you see, the activities in which you participate. When you change pieces of the world around you, your view of that world also changes and will help open up the creativity flow again.

The only thing I remember from The Artist's Way book was to take yourself on dates. Do something by yourself for yourself that would make you happy: go on a drive, watch Sesame Street while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, go to a gallery opening, feed birds in the park. Nurture the artist inside of you.
posted by rhapsodie at 12:57 AM on January 8, 2006

As a web designer I constantly look around the web for sources of inspiration - the gallery sites like Style Gala are a great place to go.

I also like to take screenshots of elements of web sites that I like - for example, the style of a pull quote or a button - which I keep on file for when I need a creative boost.

I also keep a scrap book of things I like from magazines - color schemes, layouts, typography and so on.
posted by chwats at 2:06 AM on January 8, 2006

Read books. Talk to random people online or IRL to get new ideas. There are a million here and on MeCha that love to help. Go out, exercise, take drugs, whatever takes your mind off about the current thing that's troubling you. We often tend to just circle around the same issues in our heads and then they become so huge that they are uncontrollable. By finding a way to switch off for a bit you'll get there again.

For me it is either driving late at night listening to good music or swimming. YMMV.
posted by keijo at 2:34 AM on January 8, 2006

I lay off of it for awhile while not thinking about how much being in a creative rut sucks. While I am taking time off I pursue other activities, reading, looking at other artists work, playing games, drawing. I find after awhile the ideas start to flow again (usually from the unlikeliest places) then I start to brainstorm those ideas in a journal which eventually become photographs.

Sometimes switching to another tool (35mm to medium format or toy camera) works wonders since I tend to view a subject differently when using different formats, cameras or processes.

Cheap(ish) ideas: build a dirkon camera and try your hand at pinhole photography. Or explore alternative photography processes like Cyanotype. If you shoot mainly in colour might want to try switching to b&w or try cross processing some slide film.

Change what you shoot, the equipment you use, the cereal you eat, the places you visit, the people you see, the activities in which you participate. When you change pieces of the world around you, your view of that world also changes and will help open up the creativity flow again.

posted by squeak at 3:01 AM on January 8, 2006

I have this Chai place I go to every day; its 5 minutes away from my dorm. Every day, for at least half an hour, I just sit there with my notebook, and anything I think about I write down. Often, the first ten minutes or so, it's a lot of stuff about work.

But after a few minutes, when I get all the "noise" out of your head, I start coming up with random ideas that I'd like to play with. So, I write it down, and let my mind wander where it will, not forcing the issue with myself, and come up with something else. And so on.

When was the last time you got to just sit and *think* without having an agenda?
posted by arrhn at 4:30 AM on January 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

All of these are good ideas. Changing my perspective always helps. For example, during long meetings, at a break I will often move to another seat. Something that simple resets my energy level.

In the creative realm, changing my perspective helps me use my basic formula for creativity: A + B = C. That is, putting observation A next to observation B, gives me a new idea, a synthesis that offers a new skew or insight on something.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:34 AM on January 8, 2006

relax and don't worry about it ... you're working even when you don't realize you are
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 AM on January 8, 2006

What works best for me, actually, is moving away from expecting creativity of myself, while still working within the medium in question. Which is to say, giving myself arbitrary and non-creative assignments. Since I'm a writer, that would be something like "Write 500 words on what character X eats for breakfast" or "Ten minutes freewriting--everything you can remember about that godawful temp job at the insurance company."

For photography, it might be an hour of roaming around taking pictures only of things that are red, maybe, or only of signs, or whatever. Or set a watch alarm to go off every five minutes, and you snap a picture of whatever you were looking at the instant you heard the alarm.

The point is that (for me, at least), this works in a reverse-psychology kind of way. Expecting or demanding creativity of myself shuts creativity down; but if I set up a work regime that doesn't call for any creativity, I find it starts flowing again.
posted by Kat Allison at 6:45 AM on January 8, 2006

i go look round the gallery and then have a coffee and sandwich at the cafe on the corner.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:16 AM on January 8, 2006

I second the "give yourself assignments" thing. The important thing is to keep working, even if you feel you're not being "creative"; just doing an assignment takes the pressure to be original off, while letting you keep in practice, and often the sheer act of doing the craft (painting, writing, whatever) will give you new ideas and get things flowing.
posted by Rubber Soul at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2006

turn the camera upside down ...
or invite a friend or relative to go with you , and let them take the pictures (kids are great for this) ...
or any of the other suggestions, as they are good too ...
posted by forforf at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2006

I restate my goal as "to make bad photographs," which instantly removes all internal pressure to become that fabulous photographer who will create the most sublime, immortal photographic imagery of the centrury. Then go out (or stay in) and shoot a number of rolls, allowing your eyes to guide the lens and shutter release. Process the film, look at everything you shot, have a good laugh....and do it again. A wonderful outcome of this exercise is to find truly awful photos in the group and know you succeeded in your goal! The freedom to shoot anything and everything shifts one's energy from frustration to happiness. There may also be clues within your "awful" work that speak directly to what it is you're interested in exploring with your camera.
posted by Julia Gill at 9:33 AM on January 8, 2006

Yes, Oblique Strategies.
posted by phrontist at 11:10 AM on January 8, 2006

Read read read read read read read, mixed with taking time to sit quietly and just do nothing/sip coffee/look out the window/go for walks/meditate if you do that.

I use creative downtime as absorption time, picking up a variety of books (not magazines), or seeing good films, listening to used records I've bought but not touched, and pouring them gently into my head. Try not to include too much simplistic crap in the mix; it's an easy trap to put off creating by finding yet another slim distraction.

Then, give the new concepts (whatever they are) some quiet time to mix, settle, form connections and spur new thoughts. Much of the work of interconnecting happens below the surface. Just slowing down and letting it happen while you sit a spell can be really fruitful, even if you don't feel any "Eureka!"-type moments.

Above all, don't beat yourself up for not creating. But do learn to recognize when the impulse is starting to rise; for me, it's a feeling of fullness and excitement that can be pretty obvious, but it took me a while to notice it in small doses. That's the time to ease yourself into picking up whatever tools you feel like using that day. Good luck.
posted by mediareport at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2006

spend time not worrying about being creative. give yourself time to watch a sunset without wanting to photograph it. just be.

as a writer i get a desire to capture every idea, perception, scene... with the inevitable result that i get anxious, and flit about from one thing to the next, one task to the next, in the hopes of finding the spark for the next burst of brilliance. but sometimes you just need to let the well refill.

if it's deeper than that, you may need to change your scene. new apartment, new weekend adventures, new SO... or maybe just a new cereal. who knows? maybe just go to some weird sounding event you never would have before. or go somewhere in your neighbourhood you've never been just because you haven't been there.

dabble in an entirely different art, possibly one you're not too acquainted with (without being frustrated by it).

also, some of the best advice i ever got was, "write crap." who cares if you have good ideas right away? most great art comes from doing art for the hell of it, and i always got the sense this was especially true for photogs - most shots are throwaways anyway, and some of the best snaps i ever took were the ones i didn't think would look too hot. don't think about whether your stuff is going to be brilliant, don't even think about anyone else seeing it. just take cool photos because it's fun, which is presumably why you started in the first place.
posted by poweredbybeard at 12:28 PM on January 8, 2006

I find that a disruption in my sleep schedule knocks me out of any kind of rut I may be in. I also find that I have more creative ideas when I'm sleepy, and changing your sleep pattern will give you a couple of days where you get really good ideas at the beginning and end of the day, when you're sleepy but not ready to sleep.

So, get up a few hours earlier.
posted by Hildago at 1:24 PM on January 8, 2006

Thanks all for the answers: I'll go to the library and check on some of those books. My sleep schedule is pretty screwed up as it is, maybe I need to work on normalizing it. I'm actually wondering if I am overstimulated; I spend waaay too much time browsing and nikonians; and on the web in general.

You all are right: it's time to change something.
posted by pjern at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2006

I like to read biographies of people I respect, focussing on their dry spells. Commiserrating with giants, studying how they got out of their funk.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:39 PM on January 8, 2006

Find out what the latest trends on Flickr are. Squared Circles might get you thinking about shapes, or Transparent Backgrounds might take you someplace. Sometimes when I'm feeling uncreative, I find that I'm really just feeling uninterested. Participating in a meme not only gets me thinking in new directions, but also sparks my interest again.
posted by ElfWord at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2006

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